U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey

Environmental Setting of the Yellowstone River Basin, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming

By Ronald B. Zelt, Greg Boughton, Kirk A. Miller, Jon P. Mason, and Laura M. Gianakos

Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4269

This report is also available as a PDF file, 9.72 mb.

Prepared as part of the

Cheyenne, Wyoming 1999

U.S. Department of the Interior
Bruce Babbitt, Secretary

U.S. Geological Survey
Charles G. Groat, Director

Any use of trade, product, or firm names in this publication is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government

For additional information write to:

District Chief
U.S. Geological Survey, WRD
2617 E. Lincolnway, Suite B
Cheyenne, Wyoming 82001-5662

Copies of this report can be purchased from:

U.S. Geological Survey
Branch of Information Services
Box 25286, Denver Federal Center
Denver, Colorado 80225

Information regarding the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web. You may connect to the NAWQA Home Page using the Universal Resource Locator (URL):




Purpose and scope

Previous studies

Environmental setting

Physiography, by R.B. Zelt

Climate, by R.B. Zelt 

Geology, by R.B. Zelt


Volcanic fields and uplifts

Structural basins


Paleozoic rocks

Triassic and Jurassic systems

Cretaceous system

Tertiary system

Quaternary system



Coal and hydrocarbon deposits

Metallic mineral deposits

Absaroka volcanic field

Beartooth uplift and Cretaceous volcanic centers

Bighorn, Owl Creek, and Pryor Mountains

Bighorn and Powder River Basins

Wind River Basin and Wind River Range

Vegetation, by R.B. Zelt

Surface water, by K.A. Miller

Basin characteristics

Streamflow characteristics

Annual streamflow

Flow duration

Floods and droughts



Water-quality characteristics

Suspended sediment

Dissolved solids

Stream ecology, by R.B. Zelt and L.M. Gianakos

Physical stream habitat

Aquatic biological communities

Longitudinal zonation




Ground water, by J.P. Mason

Wind River Basin

Quaternary aquifer

Tertiary and Cretaceous aquifers

Pre-Cretaceous aquifers

Bighorn Basin

Quaternary and Tertiary aquifers

Mesozoic and Paleozoic aquifers

Powder River Basin

Quaternary and Tertiary hydrogeologic units

Mesozoic and Paleozoic hydrogeologic units

Williston Basin Anthropogenic factors

Anthropogenic Factors

Population, by G.K. Boughton and R.B. Zelt

Land cover and land use, by G.K. Boughton and R.B. Zelt


Urban areas

Minerals extraction

Metals mining

Hydrocarbon production

Coal mining

Water use, by G.K. Boughton

Waste disposal, by G.K. Boughton

Disposal to streams

Disposal on land

Disposal in air

Disposal underground

Integrated environmental settings, by R.B. Zelt


Environmental stratification





1. Map showing location of Yellowstone River Basin study unit and selected cities
2. Shaded relief map showing physiographic provinces, Yellowstone River Basin
3. Graph of hypsometric curve for Yellowstone River Basin

4-6. Maps showing:

4. Average annual precipitation, Yellowstone River Basin, and graphs showing mean daily
precipitation and temperature at selected stations
5. Generalized depth to Precambrian basement structure, Yellowstone River Basin
6. Generalized geology, Yellowstone River Basin

7. Diagrammatic sections showing principal geologic structures and groupings of geologic units,
Yellowstone River Basin
8. Generalized correlation chart of Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic rocks, Yellowstone River Basin

9-10. Maps showing:

9. Principal areas of metallic mineral deposits, Yellowstone River Basin
10. Potential natural vegetation, Yellowstone River Basin 

11. Graph of conifer-forested and total area, by elevation zone, Yellowstone River Basin
12. Map showing hydrography and selected streamflow-gaging stations, Yellowstone River Basin

13-15. Graphs showing:

13. Statistical summary of daily mean streamflow for period of record at selected streamflow-gaging
stations, Yellowstone River Basin
14. Streamflow duration curves for selected periods at selected streamflow-gaging stations,
Yellowstone River Basin
15. Statistical summary diagrams of suspended-sediment and dissolved-solids concentrations at selected streamflow-gaging stations, Yellowstone River Basin

16-21. Maps showing:

16. Generalized aquifers in semiconsolidated and consolidated rocks located at or near the land
surface, Yellowstone River Basin
17. Population density, by census block group, 1990, Yellowstone River Basin
18. Land cover and land use, Yellowstone River Basin
19. Indian reservations, national forests and grasslands, and national parks and recreation areas,
Yellowstone River Basin
20. Oil and gas fields, Yellowstone River Basin
21. Coal types and major coal mine lease areas, Yellowstone River Basin

22. Graphs showing estimated water use, 1990, Yellowstone River Basin
23. Map showing ecoregions, Yellowstone River Basin
24. Schematic diagram and map of environmental settings of Yellowstone River Basin


1. Basin characteristics and annual streamflow statistics at selected sites, Yellowstone River Basin
2. Mean annual runoff for major tributaries and the mainstem as measured at selected sites, Yellowstone River Basin
3. Maximum daily suspended-sediment discharge, flood of May 1978, Powder River, Wyoming and Montana
4. Annual departure from mean annual discharge at selected streamflow-gaging stations, Yellowstone River Basin, water years 1987-96
5. Statistics for total dissolved-solids concentration at selected sites, September-February, during non-drought and drought periods, upper Wind and Yellowstone Rivers, 1969-94
6. Correlation of suspended-sediment and dissolved-solids concentration with instantaneous discharge at selected sites, Yellowstone River Basin
7. Seasonal variability in total dissolved-solids concentration in stream samples collected at site 26, Little Bighorn River near Hardin, Montana, 1970-96
8. Human activities contributing to contamination of surface and ground water
9. Estimated annual applications of fertilizers in the Yellowstone River Basin
10. Livestock numbers in the Yellowstone River Basin, 1987
11. Estimated annual applications of the 12 most extensively used herbicides in the Yellowstone River Basin
12. Principal oil fields in the Yellowstone River Basin
13. Reported surface- and ground-water use by category, 1990, Yellowstone River Basin
14. Names and descriptions of major reservoirs in the Yellowstone River Basin
15. Toxic Release Inventory emissions in the Yellowstone River Basin, 1993
16. Lithologic, water-yielding characteristics, and water quality of major geologic units in the
Yellowstone River Basin that lie within the Wind River, Bighorn, and Powder River Basins
17. Shallow hydrogeologic units in the Powder River Basin, Montana and Wyoming
18. Hydrogeology of southeastern Montana


Multiply  By To obtain
millimeter (mm) 0.03937  inch
centimeter (cm) 0.3937 inch
meter (m) 3.281 foot
kilometer (km) 0.6214 mile
square kilometer (km2) 0.3861 square mile
cubic meter (m3) 35.31 cubic foot (ft3)
barrel (bbl), petroleum 42 gallon
barrel (bbl), petroleum 0.159 cubic meter (m3)
cubic meter per second (m3/s) 35.31 cubic foot per second (ft3/s)
kilogram (kg) 2.205 pound (lb)
megagram (Mg) 1.102 short ton (2,000 lb)

Temperature can be converted to degrees Celsius (C) or degrees Fahrenheit (F) by using the following equations:
C = 5/9 (F- 32)
F = 9/5 (C) + 32

Sea level: In this report "sea level" refers to the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD of 1929)--a geodetic datum derived from a general adjustment of the first-order level nets of both the United States and Canada, formerly called Sea Level Datum of 1929.

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