Discharge and Dissolved-Solids Characteristics and Trends of Snake River above Jackson Lake at Flagg Ranch, Wyoming, 1986–2018

Scientific Investigations Report 2020-5062
Prepared in cooperation with the National Park Service
By:  and 



The headwaters of the Snake River are in the mountains of northwestern Wyoming. Maintaining the recognized high quality of water in Grand Teton National Park is a National Park Service (NPS) priority. To characterize and understand the water resources of Grand Teton National Park, the NPS established a monitoring program to monitor the quality of area surface waters. Beginning in 2006, water was sampled by the NPS and analyzed for a range of chemical species at the Snake River above Jackson Lake at Flagg Ranch streamgage 13010065 (hereafter referred to as “Snake River at Flagg Ranch”), a site where the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) previously sampled and analyzed water from 1986 through 2004. The USGS, in cooperation with the NPS, evaluated water-quality data collected by both entities to determine if discharge and total dissolved solids (referred to as dissolved solids) have changed in the Snake River at the Flagg Ranch.

To understand potential changes with time in dissolved solids, discharge was analyzed between January 1986 and December 2018, which corresponds with the time period when water-quality data were collected. Mean annual discharge varied during this time, with high, low, mean, and median flows generally increasing from 1986 through 1998, decreasing through 2005, and then generally increasing through 2018.

Combining water-quality data collected by the USGS and NPS provides a longer, more complete dataset for analyses. During the period of time when NPS was the sampling agency, specific conductance data were collected, but dissolved-solids data were not. The specific conductance data from both agencies were evaluated to determine if combining the data was justified. The interquartile ranges of data collected by both agencies are similar, and rapid, large changes in values during the period of transition between USGS and NPS sampling do not occur. The USGS and NPS datasets are not statistically different in the spring, summer, or fall, but are statistically different in the winter. The winter differences could be a function of the lack of wintertime NPS sampling, which excludes higher-concentration, lower-discharge data or a function of changes in the actual concentration in the stream. Although there is some difference in the winter datasets, the similarity in sampling methods and general overall data characteristics justifies combining the data for trend analyses.

Because the dissolved-solids parameter is useful for managers, it is often calculated from specific conductance using a linear regression model when dissolved-solids data are absent. For this study, creating a modeled dataset of dissolved solids for the NPS data collection period of time provided a longer, more complete dataset of dissolved-solids concentrations.

The concentrations of dissolved solids over time are identified by season and indicate that samples collected in the fall and winter have higher concentrations than samples collected in spring and summer. Specifically, the mean dissolved-solids concentrations in fall and winter are around 188 milligrams per liter (mg/L), whereas the mean concentrations are around 130 mg/L in spring and summer. This difference is generally attributed to the dilution of spring and summer samples by snowmelt generated runoff during the high-flow period of the year.

Trend analyses of dissolved-solids concentrations and loads indicate that an upward trend in concentration from 1986 to 2018 is likely, and a downward trend in load is highly likely. Comparing 1986 to 2018, dissolved-solids concentration is estimated to have increased by 2.25 mg/L (1.4 percent). During that same period, the dissolved-solids load is estimated to have decreased 11.8 million kilograms per year (12-percent decrease). This decrease is consistent with the estimated decrease in annual mean of daily mean discharge. Because 10 percent of the total change in dissolved-solids load is related to a change in the concentration-discharge relationship and 2 percent is related to changes in discharge, the decreased load is related less to changes in discharge and more to landscape scale processes that are affecting the concentration-discharge relationship.

As noted above, the data collected by the USGS and NPS are generally comparable with regards to sampling and analytical methods, and data collected by both agencies were used as one dataset for trend analyses. The current NPS sampling schedule, however, is creating a dataset biased towards lower concentration dissolved-solids data, which occurs during higher summer flows, by only sampling during April through November. From 1986 to 2018, the percentage of NPS samples is small enough that the effect on trends is expected to be minimal. Because of the importance of low flow (winter season) data, it is likely that an April through November sampling regime may affect the ability to detect trends or determine seasonality in the future. Collection of winter data in particular is important based on the findings that the changes in the modeled concentration-discharge relationship over time have been most pronounced during the winter (represented by February) months.

Suggested Citation

Miller, O.L., and Eddy-Miller, C.A., 2020, Discharge and dissolved-solids characteristics and trends of Snake River above Jackson Lake at Flagg Ranch, Wyoming, 1986–2018: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2020–5062, 19 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20205062.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Discharge, Specific Conductance, and Dissolved-Solids Characteristics
  • Summary
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Discharge and dissolved-solids characteristics and trends of Snake River above Jackson Lake at Flagg Ranch, Wyoming, 1986–2018
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2020-5062
DOI 10.3133/sir20205062
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Utah Water Science Center, WY-MT Water Science Center
Description vi, 19 p.
Country United States
State Wyoming
Other Geospatial Flagg Ranch watershed
Online Only (Y/N) Y
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