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Water-quality characteristics and trend analyses for the Tongue, Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins, Wyoming and Montana, for selected periods, water years 1991 through 2010

Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5117

Prepared in cooperation with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
By:

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Abstract

The Powder River structural basin in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana is an area of ongoing coalbed natural gas (CBNG) development. Waters produced during CBNG development are managed with a variety of techniques, including surface impoundments and discharges into stream drainages. The interaction of CBNG-produced waters with the atmosphere and the semiarid soils of the Powder River structural basin can affect water chemistry in several ways. Specific conductance and sodium adsorption ratios (SAR) of CBNG-produced waters that are discharged to streams have been of particular concern because they have the potential to affect the use of the water for irrigation. Water-quality monitoring has been conducted since 2001 at main-stem and tributary sites in the Tongue, Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins in response to concerns about CBNG effects. A study was conducted to summarize characteristics of stream-water quality for water years 2001–10 (October 1, 2000, to September 30, 2010) and examine trends in specific conductance, SAR, and primary constituents that contribute to specific conductance and SAR for changes through time (water years 1991–2010) that may have occurred as a result of CBNG development. Specific conductance and SAR are the focus characteristics of this report. Dissolved calcium, magnesium, and sodium, which are primary contributors to specific conductance and SAR, as well as dissolved alkalinity, chloride, and sulfate, which are other primary contributors to specific conductance, also are described. Stream-water quality in the Tongue, Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins was variable during water years 2001–10, in part because of variations in streamflow. In general, annual runoff was less than average during water years 2001–06 and near or above average during water years 2007–10. Stream water of the Tongue River had the smallest specific conductance values, sodium adsorption ratios, and major ion concentrations of the main-stem streams. Sites in the Tongue River drainage basin typically had the smallest range of specific conductance and SAR values. The water chemistry of sites in the Powder River drainage basin generally was the most variable as a result of diverse characteristics of that basin. Plains tributaries in the Powder River drainage basin had the largest range of specific conductance and SAR values, in part due to the many tributaries that receive CBNG-produced waters. Trends were analyzed using the seasonal Kendall test with flow-adjusted concentrations to determine changes to water quality through time at sites in the Tongue, Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins. Trends were evaluated for water years 2001–10 for 17 sites, which generally were on the main-stem streams and primary tributaries. Trends were evaluated for water years 2005–10 for 26 sites to increase the spatial coverage of sites. Trends were evaluated for water years 1991–2010 for eight sites to include water-quality data collected prior to widespread CBNG development and expand the temporal context of trends. Consistent patterns were not observed in trend results for water years 2001–10 for flow-adjusted specific conductance and SAR values in the Tongue, Powder, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins. Significant (p-values less than 0.05) upward trends in flow-adjusted specific conductance values were determined for 3 sites, a downward trend was determined for 1 site, and no significant (p-value greater than 0.05) trends were determined for 13 sites. One of the sites with a significant upward trend was the Tongue River at the Wyoming-Montana State line. No trend in flow-adjusted specific conductance values was determined for the Powder River at Moorhead, Mont. Significant upward trends in flow-adjusted SAR values were determined for 2 sites and no significant trends were determined for 15 sites. No trends in flow-adjusted SAR values were determined for the Tongue River at the Wyoming-Montana State line or for the Powder River at Moorhead, Mont. One of the sites with a significant upward trend in flow-adjusted SAR values was the Powder River at Arvada, Wyo. For water years 2005–10, significant upward trends in flow-adjusted specific conductance values were determined no significant trends were determined for 13 sites. A significant upward trend was determined for flow-adjusted specific conductance values for the Tongue River at the Wyoming-Montana State line. No trend in flow-adjusted specific conductance values was determined for the Powder River at Moorhead, Mont. Significant upward trends in flow-adjusted SAR values were determined for 4 sites, downward trends were determined for 5 sites, and no significant trend was determined for 17 sites. No trends in flow-adjusted SAR values were determined for the Tongue River at the Wyoming-Montana State line or for the Powder River at Moorhead, Mont. Results of the seasonal Kendall test applied to flow-adjusted specific conductance values for water years 1991–2010 indicated no significant trend for eight sites in the Tongue, Powder, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins. No significant trend in flow-adjusted specific conductance was determined for the Tongue River at the Wyoming-Montana State line or the Powder River at Moorhead, Mont. Results of the seasonal Kendall test applied to flow-adjusted SAR values for water years 1991–2010 indicated an upward trend for one site and no significant trend for four sites in the Powder and Belle Fourche River drainage basins. The significant upward trend in flow-adjusted SAR values was determined for the Powder River at Arvada, Wyo., for water years 1991–2010. Results indicate that CBNG development in the Powder River structural basin may have contributed to some trends, such as the upward trend in flow-adjusted SAR for the Powder River at Arvada, Wyo., for water years 1991–2010. An upward trend in flow-adjusted alkalinity concentrations for water years 2001–10 also was determined for the Powder River at Arvada, Wyo. Trend results are consistent with changes that can occur from the addition of sodium and bicarbonate associated with CBNG-produced waters to the Powder River. Upward trends in constituents at other sites, including the Belle Fourche River, may be the result of declining CBNG development, indicating that CBNG-produced waters may have had a dilution effect on some streams. The factors affecting other trends could not be determined because multiple factors could have been affecting the stream-water quality or because trends were observed at sites upstream from CBNG development that may have affected water-quality trends at sites downstream.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Water-quality characteristics and trend analyses for the Tongue, Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins, Wyoming and Montana, for selected periods, water years 1991 through 2010
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
2012-5117
Year Published:
2012
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Wyoming Water Science Center
Description:
vii, 70 p.; Appendices
First page:
i
Last page:
70
Time Range Start:
1990-10-01
Time Range End:
2010-09-30
Country:
United States
State:
Wyoming;Montana
Other Geospatial:
Tongue River Drainage Basin;Powder River Drainage Basin;Cheyenne River Drainage Basin;Belle Fourche River Drainage Basin
Additional Online Files(Y/N):
N