Nutrients, suspended sediment, and pesticides in streams in the Red River of the North basin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, 1993-95

Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4053
By: , and 



Fifteen stream sites in the Red River of the North Basin were sampled during 1993-95 to assess levels of nutrients, organic carbon, and suspended sediment, and five sites were sampled for pesticides. Concentrations varied seasonally and were related to periods of fertilizer and pesticide application, and to runoff. Concentrations of several constituents were related to the physiographic area the stream drains, but other factors such as local land use frequently complicated that relation.

Median dissolved nitrogen concentrations were highest in streams influenced by the Red River Valley Lake Plain physiographic area. Organic nitrogen comprised the largest part of the dissolved nitrogen in streams. Ammonia was negligible most of the year, but accumulated under ice in late winter. Nitrate concentrations generally were highest during snowmelt and rainfall runoff.

Phosphorus in streams mostly was in the dissolved form, which is readily available to biota. Streams draining the Moraine and Lake-Washed Till Plain had the lowest concentrations of total phosphorus, while Drift Prairie and Red River Valley Lake Plain streams had the highest concentrations. Concentrations of both dissolved and suspended phosphorus increased substantially during runoff of snowmelt and rainfall.

The Bois de Sioux River Basin had the highest nitrogen yield. High nitrogen and phosphorus yields probably were related to agricultural practices in the Bois de Sioux River Basin. High phosphorus concentrations in the Pembina River probably result from agricultural practices and runoff from the steep terrain in the basin.

Improved wastewater treatment appears to have reduced ammonia concentrations in streams, but has resulted in increased nitrate concentrations. The loads of nitrogen and phosphorus in the Red River of the North during this study were about twice as high as historical loads, but still were only about 4.1 and 2.4 percent, respectively, of the amounts introduced to the study unit.

Dissolved organic carbon concentrations above 15 mg/L were common in streams draining peatlands. Suspended organic carbon concentrations were highly variable and generally were highest during runoff.

Most suspended sediment in streams was clay and silt sized particles. The Pembina River had the highest concentrations and yields of suspended sediment, probably the result of erosion along this relatively high-gradient stream. Streams having an abundance of lakes, reservoirs, and wetlands in their watersheds had the lowest sediment concentrations and yields.

Several pesticides were frequently detected. Atrazine and other triazine compounds were detected in most stream-water samples throughout the study. Concentrations of triazine herbicides were highest in streams draining southern parts of the study unit where they are applied to corn. Triallate was commonly detected in northern streams where it is applied to small grains and sunflowers. Simazine and prometon were commonly detected, but generally are used only for nonagricultural purposes. Few insecticides were detected in stream-water samples. Carbofuran was the most commonly detected insecticide and was found in 16 percent of the samples.

The most heavily used herbicides, 2,4-D and MCPA, were infrequently detected in stream-water samples. Of the estimated applications of atrazine, triallate, and 2,4-D, about 0.9, 0.06, and 0.02 percent of each of these compounds, respectively, was carried out of the study unit by the Red River of the North during 1993-95.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Nutrients, suspended sediment, and pesticides in streams in the Red River of the North basin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, 1993-95
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 97-4053
DOI 10.3133/wri974053
Year Published 1997
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Mounds View, MN
Contributing office(s) Minnesota Water Science Center, North Dakota Water Science Center, Dakota Water Science Center
Description vii, 70 p.
Country United States
State Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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