Concepts for monitoring water quality in the Spokane River Basin, northern Idaho and eastern Washington

Open-File Report 98-534




Numerous environmental studies have been conducted in the Spokane River Basin over the past several decades by government agencies, academic institutions, and environmental engineering firms. Most of these efforts have focused on the environmental effects of more than a century of silver, lead, and zinc mining and oreprocessing activities in the South Fork Coeur d'Alene River valley in northern Idaho. Several studies also have assessed the water quality and potential for eutrophication of Coeur d'Alene and Long Lakes and the Coeur d'Alene, St. Joe, and Spokane Rivers. Because past investigations often were limited in scope and employed different approaches and methods, an integrated understanding of hydrologic, water-quality, and aquatic biological conditions still is lacking for the basin as a whole. Substantial resources are being spent for water-quality and naturalresource management, and for mitigating the adverse environmental effects of past mining activities in the basin. A water-quality monitoring network, integrated with the decision-making processes associated with these efforts, could be of considerable value. The purpose of such a monitoring network is to produce high-quality information on which to base sound water-quality and natural-resource management decisions and to assess the effectiveness of those decisions. A streamflow- and water-quality monitoring infrastructure already exists in the Spokane River Basin. This infrastructure consists of 20 lake-stage and streamflow-gaging stations, representing specific drainages or subdrainages and, in many cases, specific stream reaches or subreaches. These gaging stations are operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), several of them in cooperation with State and Federal agencies and a private utility company. Extensive streamflow data are available, some dating from the late 1800s. Water-quality data are also available from recent USGS cooperative studies in the Coeur d'Alene Lake watershed. A nutrient load/lake response (eutrophication) model has been developed for Coeur d'Alene Lake. Hydraulic models for estimating streamflow through the low-gradient reaches of the Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe Rivers have been developed. Trace-element concentrations and distributions in sediments in the lower South Fork and main-stem Coeur d'Alene River flood plain and the bed of Coeur d'Alene Lake have been assessed. Trace-element transport models have been developed for the lower Coeur d'Alene River system; estimates of annual load are available from the early 1990's to the present (1998). The USGS is monitoring traceelement concentrations and transport at seven gaging stations in the lower Coeur d'Alene River system and upper Spokane River, in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Fish and macroinvertebrate community assessment and tissue contaminant analyses at four Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe River gaging stations will begin in 1998, either as part of the Idaho Surface- Water Quality Ambient Monitoring Network operated by USGS in cooperation with the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality, or for the Northern Rockies Intermontane Basins (NROK) study of the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. Several gaging stations in the Spokane River Basin are being considered for routine sampling sites for the NROK NAWQA study. Several other sites also will be sampled for contaminants in bed sediment and fish tissue for the NROK study. Combined with appropriate sampling and data interpretation strategies, the existing USGS gaging-station network and data base could provide integrated water-quality information needed for sound environmental and resource-management decisions throughout the Spokane River Basin.

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Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Concepts for monitoring water quality in the Spokane River Basin, northern Idaho and eastern Washington
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Idaho Water Science Center
iv, 25 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Couer D'alene River;Long Lake;St. Joe River