Assessment of Streamflow and Water Quality in the Upper Yampa River Basin, Colorado, 1992–2018

Scientific Investigations Report 2021-5016
Prepared in cooperation with Upper Yampa River Watershed Group, Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable, Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, Routt County, Colorado, and the city of Steamboat Springs, Colorado
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  • Document: Report (4.17 MB pdf)
  • Data Release: USGS data release— Input and output data from streamflow and water-quality regression models used to characterize streamflow and water-quality conditions in the Upper Yampa River Basin, Colorado, from 1992-2018
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core

Abstract

The Upper Yampa River Basin drains approximately 2,100 square miles west of the Continental Divide in north-western Colorado. There is a growing need to understand potential changes in the quantity and quality of water resources as the basin is undergoing increasing land and water development to support growing municipal, industrial, and recreational needs. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with stakeholders in the Upper Yampa River Basin water community, began a study to characterize and identify changes in streamflow and selected water-quality constituents, including  suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and orthophosphate, in the basin. This study used streamflow and water-quality data from selected U.S. Geological Survey sites to provide a better understanding of how major factors, including land use, climate change, and geological features, may influence streamflow and water quality.

Analysis of long-term (1910–2018) and short-term (1992–2018) records of streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and tributary sites indicate downward trends in one or more streamflow statistics, including 1-day maximum, mean, and 7-day minimum. Long-term downward trends in daily mean streamflow in April (22 percent overall) at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colorado, correspond to observed changes in streamflow documented across western North America and the Colorado River Basin that are predominately associated with changes in snowmelt runoff and temperatures. During the short-term period of analysis, decreases in streamflow at main-stem Yampa River and some tributary sites are likely related to changes in consumptive use and reservoir management or, at sites with no upstream flow impoundments, changes in irrigation diversions and climate.

Concentrations of water-quality constituents were typically highest in spring (March, April, and May) during the early snowmelt runoff period as material that is washed off the land surface drains into streams. Highest concentrations occurred slightly later, in May, June, and July, at Yampa River above Stagecoach Reservoir, Colo., and slightly earlier, in February and March at Yampa River at Milner, Colo., indicating that these sites may have different or additional sources of phosphorus from upstream inputs. Yampa River at Milner, Colo., and Yampa River above Elkhead Creek, Colo., had the highest net yields of suspended sediment, Kjeldahl nitrogen, and total phosphorus, and are likely influenced by land use and erosion as the basins of both of these sites are underlain by highly erodible Cretaceous shales.

Upward trends in estimated Kjeldahl nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations and loads were found at Yampa River at Steamboat Springs, Colo. From 1999 to 2018, the Kjeldahl nitrogen concentration increased by 10 percent or 0.035 milligram per liter, and load increased by 22 percent or 26 tons. Total phosphorus concentration increased by 20 percent or 0.0081 milligram per liter, and loads increased by 41 percent or 6.2 tons. Decreases in streamflow and changes in land use may contribute to these trends.

During multiple summer sampling events at Stagecoach Reservoir, the physical and chemical factors indicated conditions conducive to cyanobacterial blooms, including surface-water temperatures greater than 20 degrees Celsius and total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations in exceedance of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment interim concentrations for water-quality standards. Local geological features (predominately sandstones and shales) and additional inputs from upstream land use likely contribute to the elevated nutrient conditions in Stagecoach Reservoir.

Suggested Citation

Day, N.K., 2021, Assessment of streamflow and water quality in the Upper Yampa River Basin, Colorado, 1992–2018: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2021–5016, 45 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20215016.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

ISSN: 2328-031X (print)

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Assessment of streamflow and water quality in the Upper Yampa River Basin, Colorado, 1992–2018
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2021-5016
ISBN 978-1-4113-4402-0
DOI 10.3133/sir20215016
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Colorado Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 45 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Upper Yampa River Basin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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