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Water-Resources Investigations Report 02-4146

Concentrations of Dissolved Oxygen in the Lower Puyallup and White Rivers, Washington, August and September 2000 and 2001

Prepared in cooperation with the

By J.C. Ebbert


The U.S. Geological Survey, Washington State Department of Ecology, and Puyallup Tribe of Indians conducted a study in August and September 2001 to assess factors affecting concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the lower Puyallup and White Rivers, Washington. The study was initiated because observed concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the lower Puyallup River fell to levels ranging from less than 1 milligram per liter (mg/L) to about 6 mg/L on several occasions in September 2000. The water quality standard for the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the Puyallup River is 8 mg/L.

This study concluded that inundation of the sensors with sediment was the most likely cause of the low concentrations of dissolved oxygen observed in September 2000. The conclusion was based on (1) knowledge gained when a dissolved-oxygen sensor became covered with sediment in August 2001, (2) the fact that, with few exceptions, concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the lower Puyallup and White Rivers did not fall below 8 mg/L in August and September 2001, and (3) an analysis of other mechanisms affecting concentrations of dissolved oxygen.

The analysis of other mechanisms indicated that they are unlikely to cause steep declines in concentrations of dissolved oxygen like those observed in September 2000. Five-day biochemical oxygen demand ranged from 0.22 to 1.78 mg/L (mean of 0.55 mg/L), and river water takes only about 24 hours to flow through the study reach. Photosynthesis and respiration cause concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the lower Puyallup River to fluctuate as much as about 1 mg/L over a 24-hour period in August and September. Release of water from Lake Tapps for the purpose of hydropower generation often lowered concentrations of dissolved oxygen downstream in the White River by about 1 mg/L. The effect was smaller farther downstream in the Puyallup River at river mile 5.8, but was still observable as a slight decrease in concentrations of dissolved oxygen caused by photosynthesis and respiration. The upper limit on oxygen demand caused by the scour of anoxic bed sediment and subsequent oxidation of reduced iron and manganese is less than 1 mg/L. The actual demand, if any, is probably negligible.

In August and September 2001, concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the lower Puyallup River did not fall below the water-quality standard of 8 mg/L, except at high tide when the saline water from Commencement Bay reached the monitor at river mile 2.9. The minimum concentration of dissolved oxygen (7.6 mg/L) observed at river mile 2.9 coincided with the maximum value of specific conductance. Because the dissolved-oxygen standard for marine water is 6.0 mg/L, the standard was not violated at river mile 2.9.

The concentration of dissolved oxygen at river mile 1.8 in the White River dropped below the water-quality standard on two occasions in August 2001. The minimum concentration of 7.8 mg/L occurred on August 23, and a concentration of 7.9 mg/L was recorded on August 13. Because there was some uncertainty in the monitoring record for those days, it cannot be stated with certainty that the actual concentration of dissolved oxygen in the river dropped below 8 mg/L. However, at other times when the quality of the monitoring record was good, concentrations as low as 8.2 mg/L were observed at river mile 1.8 in the White River.


Data Collection
Concentrations of Dissolved Oxygen, August and September 2000, 2001
Analysis of Factors Affecting Concentrations of Dissolved Oxygen
Probable Cause of Low Concentrations of Dissolved Oxygen Observed September 2000
Summary and Conclusions
References Cited
Appendix A. Monitor Inspection and Calibration Sheet
Appendix B. Methods Used to Analyze Water and Sediment Samples
Appendix C. Summary of Data Collected for the Puget Sound Energy 2001 Water Quality Monitoring Program. (Data collected by HDR Engineering Inc.)

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Send questions or comments about this report to the author, Jim Ebbert ( 253.428.3600 ext. 2682.

For more information about USGS activities in Washington, visit the USGS Washington District home page.