The Tongue River drains an area of about 5,400 square miles and flows northward from its headwaters in the Bighorn National Forest of northeastern Wyoming to join the Yellowstone River at Miles City, Montana. Water from the Tongue River and its tributaries is extensively used for irrigation in both Wyoming and Montana. The Tongue River watershed contains vast coal deposits that are extracted at several surface mines. In some areas of the watershed, the coal beds also contain methane gas (coal-bed methane or natural gas), which has become the focus of intense exploration and development. Production of coal-bed methane requires the pumping of large volumes of ground water from the coal beds to reduce water pressure within the formation and release the stored gas. Water from the coal beds typically is high in sodium and low in calcium and magnesium, resulting in a high sodium-adsorption ratio (SAR). Disposal of ground water with high sodium concentrations into the Tongue River has the potential to increase salinity and SAR of water in the river, and potentially reduce the quality of water for irrigation purposes.
This report documents SAR values measured in water samples collected at 12 monitoring sites in the Tongue River watershed and presents regression relations between specific conductance (SC) and SAR at each site for the years 2004-06. SAR in water samples was determined from laboratory-measured concentrations of sodium, calcium, and magnesium. The results of regression analysis indicated that SC and SAR were significantly related (p-values < 0.05) at most sites. The regression relations developed for most monitoring sites in the Tongue River watershed were used with continuous SC data to estimate daily SAR during the 2004 and 2005 irrigation seasons and to estimate 2006 provisional SAR values, which were displayed on the Web in real-time.
Water samples were collected and analyzed from seven sites on the main stem of the Tongue River located at: (1) Monarch, Wyoming, station 06299980, (2) State line near Decker, Montana, station 06306300, (3) Tongue River Dam near Decker, Montana, station 06307500, (4) Birney Day School Bridge near Birney, Montana, station 06307616, (5) below Brandenberg Bridge near Ashland, Montana, station 06307830, (6) above T&Y Diversion Dam near Miles City, Montana, station 06307990, and (7) Miles City, Montana, station 06308500. Water samples were collected and analyzed from five sites on tributaries located at: (1) Goose Creek near Acme, Wyoming, station 06305700, (2) Prairie Dog Creek near Acme, Wyoming, station 06306250, (3) Hanging Woman Creek near Birney, Montana, station 06307600, (4) Otter Creek at Ashland, Montana, station 06307740, and (5) Pumpkin Creek near Miles City, Montana, station 06308400. All water-quality data for samples collected at these 12 sites can be accessed at Web sites http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mt/nwis or http://waterdata.usgs.gov/wy/nwis.