To address water-resource management objectives of the National Park Service in Grand Teton National Park, the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the National Park Service has conducted water-quality sampling on streams in the Snake River headwaters area. A synoptic study of streams in the western part of the headwaters area was conducted during 2006. Sampling sites were located on Cottonwood Creek, Taggart Creek, Lake Creek, and Granite Creek. Sampling events in June, July, August, and October were selected to characterize different hydrologic conditions and different recreational-use periods. Stream samples were collected and analyzed for field measurements, major-ion chemistry, nutrients, selected trace elements, pesticides, and suspended sediment.
Water types of Cottonwood Creek, Taggart Creek, Lake Creek, and Granite Creek were calcium bicarbonate. Dissolved-solids concentrations were dilute in Cottonwood Creek and Taggart Creek, which drain Precambrian-era rocks and materials derived from these rocks. Dissolved-solids concentrations ranged from 11 to 31 milligrams per liter for samples collected from Cottonwood Creek and Taggart Creek. Dissolved-solids concentrations ranged from 55 to 130 milligrams per liter for samples collected from Lake Creek and Granite Creek, which drain Precambrian-era rocks and Paleozoic-era rocks and materials derived from these rocks. Nutrient concentrations generally were small in samples collected from Cottonwood Creek, Taggart Creek, Lake Creek, and Granite Creek. Dissolved-nitrate concentrations were the largest in Taggart Creek. The Taggart Creek drainage basin has the largest percentage of barren land cover of the basins, and subsurface waters of talus slopes may contribute to dissolved-nitrate concentrations in Taggart Creek. Pesticide concentrations, trace-element concentrations, and suspended-sediment concentrations generally were less than laboratory reporting levels or were small for all samples.
Water-quality characteristics of streams in the western part of the Snake River headwaters area were compared to water-quality characteristics of streams sampled in 2002 in the eastern part of the headwaters area. The median dissolved-solids concentration (55 milligrams per liter) for samples collected from western streams was smaller than the median dissolved-solids concentration (125 milligrams per liter) for samples collected from eastern streams. The small dissolved-solids concentrations in the western streams are a result of the large areas underlain by resistant Precambrian-era rocks that compose the Teton Range compared to the more erodable Mesozoic-era sedimentary rocks that compose the mountains in the eastern part of the headwaters area. The Teton Range also receives higher annual precipitation than the mountains in the east. The median total-nitrogen concentration (0.17 milligram per liter) in samples collected from streams in the western part of the Snake River headwaters area was larger than the median concentration (0.10 milligram per liter) for samples collected from streams in the eastern part of the headwaters area, in part because of larger dissolved-nitrate concentrations in samples from the western streams compared to the eastern streams. In contrast, total-phosphorus concentrations generally were larger for samples collected from eastern streams. Large total-phosphorus concentrations in the eastern streams were associated with large suspended-sediment concentrations. The source of the phosphorus and sediment probably is Mesozoic-era sedimentary rocks of marine origin that underlie parts of the eastern drainage basins.