Assessment of selected constituents in surface water of the upper Snake River basin, Idaho and western Wyoming, water years 1975-89

Water-Resources Investigations Report 93-4229




In 1991, a water-quality investigation of the upper Snake River Basin was initiated as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program. The initial task of the assessment was to compile and analyze available nutrient, suspended sediment, and pesticide data collected in the basin. For analysis of nutrients and suspended sediment, data collected during water years 1980-89 were used. For pesticides, an additional 5 years of data were included for a total assessment period encompassing water years 1975-89. Nearly 9,000 analyses of nutrients and suspended sediment from more than 450 stations were retrieved from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency STORET and U.S. Geological Survey WATSTORE data bases. Nineteen stations had sufficient analyses for quantitative assessment. Of the 19 stations analyzed, 4 are located on relatively unaffected stream reaches, 8 are at or near mouths of tributary basins affected by agricultural activities, and 7 are on the main stem of the Snake River. Data indicate that nitrite plus nitrate and total phosphorus concentrations generally increased in a downstream direction along the Snake River; concentrations were largest at the mouths of drainage basins tributary to the Snake River. Water-quality stations were categorized as unaffected or minimally affected, agriculturally affected, or main stem to compare nutrient concentrations between drainage basins of differing land use/land cover. Concentrations of nitrite plus nitrate, total nitrogen, dissolved orthophosphate, and total phosphorus were significantly (p<0.05) larger at agriculturally affected and main-stem stations than at unaffected stations; and concentrations of nitrite plus nitrate, total nitrogen, and total phosphorus at agriculturally affected stations were significantly larger than at main-stem stations. Significant differences in seasonal concentrations of some nutrient species also were noted. Few suspended sediment and pesticide data were available for the study basin. Only six stations had sufficient data for quantitative assessment of suspended sediment. A direct positive relation exists between suspended sediment concentration and streamflow; concentrations are largest in April, May, and June at high streamflow. Most of the pesticide data compiled from STORET and WATSTORE were collected during water years 1975-79. Only 33 pesticide samples, excluding samples collected for a Rural Clean Water Program, were collected from surface water and bottom sediment during water years 1980-89. Bottom sediment collected near the mouth of the Henrys Fork during the late 1970's had the largest concentrations of pesticides in the basin; DOT, ODD, and DDE concentrations exceeded 10 micrograms per kilogram. Mass movement of nutrients and suspended sediment in the upper Snake River Basin is controlled primarily by changes in streamflow. Between two and three times as much total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and suspended sediment were transported out of the basin in water year 1984 (high-flow year) compared with 1989 (low-flow year). Reservoirs on the main stem of the Snake River probably trap much of the nutrient and most of the suspended sediment load generated from upper parts of the basin. A more extensive data-collection program in the upper Snake River Basin is needed to address a number of water-quality issues. These include an analysis of effects of land use on the quality of surface water; quantification of mass movement of nutrients and suspended sediment at key locations in the basin; distribution of aquatic organisms; and temporal and spatial distribution of pesticides in surface water, bottom sediment, and biota.

Study Area

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Assessment of selected constituents in surface water of the upper Snake River basin, Idaho and western Wyoming, water years 1975-89
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Idaho Water Science Center
v, 49 p.
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Snake River Basin
Albers Equal-Area projection