Water-quality assessment of the upper Snake River basin, Idaho and western Wyoming; environmental setting, 1980-92

Water-Resources Investigations Report 94-4221




The 35,800-square-mile upper Snake River Basin is one of 20 areas studied as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. Objectives of NAWQA are to study ground- and surface-water quality, biology, and their relations to land-use activities. Major land and water uses that affect water quality in the basin are irrigated agriculture, grazing, aquaculture, food processing, and wastewater treatment. Data summarized in this report are used in companion reports to help define the relations among land use, water use, water quality, and biological conditions. The upper Snake River Basin is located in southeastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming and includes small parts of Nevada and Utah. Total population in the basin was about 425,000 in 1990. Major urban areas are Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Rexburg, and Twin Falls, Idaho, which make up 10, 11,3, and 6 percent of the total population, respectively. Climate in the basin is mostly semiarid and mean annual precipitation ranges from 8 to more than 60 inches. The eastern Snake River Plain is the major geologic feature in the basin and is delineated mostly by Quaternary and Tertiary basalt flows. It is about 55 to 62 miles wide and 320 miles long and bisects the basin in a northeast-southwest direction. The Snake River is the dominant surface-water feature and flows about 453 miles from the southern border of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming to King Hill, Idaho, where it leaves the basin. The Snake River flows through five reservoirs that provide a total storage capacity of more than 4 million acre-feet. Gravity-flow diversions are predominant in the upper part of the basin and totaled 8.8 million.acre-feet in 1980. Pumped diversions occur mainly in the lower part of the basin and totaled 408,500 acre-feet in 1980. The Snake River Plain aquifer is the predominant ground-water feature in the upper Snake River Basin and underlies the eastern Snake River Plain. The upper 500 feet of the aquifer may store 200 to 300 million acre-feet of water. Ground-water resources that supply agricultural lands are sustained by recharge from surface-water irrigation, precipitation, and tributary inflow. Major ground-water discharges are at springs and seeps or from ground-water pumpage for irrigation. Water use in the basin is dominated by irrigated agriculture, which is the largest consumptive water use in the basin. Major crops in the basin include potatoes, wheat, sugar beets, hay, and barley. Most irrigation needs are supplied from surface-water sources through a series of canals and laterals. In 1990, about 2.5 million acres were irrigated with more than 14.2 million acre-feet of surface and ground water. About 21 percent of the basin is agricultural land and 50 percent is rangeland. Idaho leads the Nation in trout production for commercial sale. Combined mean annual discharges from 12 aquacultural facilities in the basin (1985-90) were about 787,000 acre-feet. These facilities are clustered in a reach of the Snake River between Milner Dam and King Hill where ground-water discharge is from many seeps and springs that provide sufficient quantities of good-quality water. Other facilities that release effluent to the Snake River include 13 municipal wastewater treatment plants and 3 industrial facilities.

Geospatial Extents

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water-quality assessment of the upper Snake River basin, Idaho and western Wyoming; environmental setting, 1980-92
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Idaho Water Science Center
iv, 35 p.
Number of Pages:
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Snake River Basin