Evaluation of total phosphorus mass balance in the lower Boise River and selected tributaries, southwestern Idaho

Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5220

Prepared in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
DOI: 10.3133/sir20135220



he U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, developed spreadsheet mass-balance models for total phosphorus using results from three synoptic sampling periods conducted in the lower Boise River watershed during August and October 2012, and March 2013. The modeling reach spanned 46.4 river miles (RM) along the Boise River from Veteran’s Memorial Parkway in Boise, Idaho (RM 50.2), to Parma, Idaho (RM 3.8). The USGS collected water-quality samples and measured streamflow at 14 main-stem Boise River sites, two Boise River north channel sites, two sites on the Snake River upstream and downstream of its confluence with the Boise River, and 17 tributary and return-flow sites. Additional samples were collected from treated effluent at six wastewater treatment plants and two fish hatcheries. The Idaho Department of Water Resources quantified diversion flows in the modeling reach. Total phosphorus mass-balance models were useful tools for evaluating sources of phosphorus in the Boise River during each sampling period. The timing of synoptic sampling allowed the USGS to evaluate phosphorus inputs to and outputs from the Boise River during irrigation season, shortly after irrigation ended, and soon before irrigation resumed. Results from the synoptic sampling periods showed important differences in surface-water and groundwater distribution and phosphorus loading. In late August 2012, substantial streamflow gains to the Boise River occurred from Middleton (RM 31.4) downstream to Parma (RM 3.8). Mass-balance model results indicated that point and nonpoint sources (including groundwater) contributed phosphorus loads to the Boise River during irrigation season. Groundwater exchange within the Boise River in October 2012 and March 2013 was not as considerable as that measured in August 2012. However, groundwater discharge to agricultural tributaries and drains during non-irrigation season was a large source of discharge and phosphorus in the lower Boise River in October 2012 and March 2013. Model results indicate that point sources represent the largest contribution of phosphorus to the Boise River year round, but that reductions in point and nonpoint source phosphorus loads may be necessary to achieve seasonal total phosphorus concentration targets at Parma (RM 3.8) from May 1 through September 30, as set by the 2004 Snake River-Hells Canyon Total Maximum Daily Load document. The mass-balance models do not account for biological or depositional instream processes, but are useful indicators of locations where appreciable phosphorus uptake or release by aquatic plants may occur.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Evaluation of total phosphorus mass balance in the lower Boise River and selected tributaries, southwestern Idaho
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Idaho Water Science Center
Report: viii, 70 p.; 3 XLSM files
United States
Other Geospatial:
Boise River
North American Datum of 1983
Universal Transverse Mercator, Zone 10 North. Horizontal
Additional Online Files (Y/N):