Water Quality in the Yellowstone River Basin Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota, 1999-2001

U.S. Geological Survey Circular 2004-1234


By David A. Peterson, Kirk A. Miller, Timothy T. Bartos, Melanie L. Clark, Stephen D. Porter, and Thomas L. Quinn


This circular is available as a pdf.


This report contains the major findings of a 1999–2001 assessment of water quality in the Yellowstone River Basin. It is one of a series of reports by the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program that present major findings in 51 major river basins and aquifer systems across the Nation.

In these reports, water quality is discussed in terms of local, State, and regional issues. Conditions in a particular basin or aquifer system are compared to conditions found elsewhere and to selected national benchmarks, such as those for drinking-water quality and the protection of aquatic organisms.

This report is intended for individuals working with water-resource issues in Federal, State, or local agencies, universities, public interest groups, or in the private sector. The information will be useful in addressing a number of current issues, such as the effects of agricultural and urban land use on water quality, human health, drinking water, source-water protection, hypoxia and excessive growth of algae and plants, pesticide registration, and monitoring and sampling strategies. This report also is for individuals who wish to know more about the quality of streams and ground water in areas near where they live, and how that water quality compares to the quality of water in other areas across the Nation.

The water-quality conditions in the Yellowstone River Basin summarized in this report are discussed in detail in other reports that can be accessed from Detailed technical information, data and analyses, collection and analytical methodology, models, graphs, and maps that support the findings presented in this report, in addition to reports in this series from other basins, can be accessed from the national NAWQA Web site (



National Water-Quality Assessment Program

What kind of water-quality information does the NAWQA Program provide?

Introduction to this Report

Summary of Major Findings

Stream and River Highlights

Ground-Water Highlights

Introduction to the Yellowstone River Basin

Surface-Water Resources

Ground-Water Resources

Biological Resources

Water-Quality Issues

Major Findings

Natural factors affect stream and ground-water chemistry

Coliform bacteria concentrations exceeded Federal guidelines frequently in streams, but rarely in ground water

Nutrient concentrations vary seasonally and in relation to land use

Pesticides were detected frequently in streams, ground water, and fish tissue, but at low concentrations

Commonly detected volatile organic compounds in Quaternary aquifers are associated with gasoline

Ground water underlying low-density development generally is suitable for domestic use

Some trace element concentrations in streams and bed sediment exceeded aquatic-life guidelines

Trace elements in ground water were generally low compared to drinking-water standards and guidelines

Periphyton and invertebrate communities are degraded in some segments of the Yellowstone River

Fish communities reflect water-quality and habitat conditions

Study Unit Design

References Cited


Appendix—Water-Quality Data from the Yellowstone River Basin in a National Context

Points of Contact and Additional Information


The companion Web site for NAWQA summary reports:


Yellowstone River Basin contact and Web site:

USGS State Representative

U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Discipline

2617 E. Lincolnway, Suite B

Cheyenne, Wyoming 82001



National NAWQA Program:

Chief, NAWQA Program
U.S. Geological Survey
Water Resources Discipline
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, M.S. 413
Reston, VA 20192


For sale by


U.S. Geological Survey,

Information Services
Box 25286, Denver Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225


For more information about the USGS and its products:

Telephone: 1-888-ASK-USGS
World Wide Web:


The full report is available in pdf format and is 17.1 MB in size.


If you have Adobe® Acrobat® or Adobe® Acrobat® Reader® installed on your computer, you may view and print the PDF version of this report. Acrobat Reader, is a free download it from Adobe Systems, Inc.  Users with disabilities can view information concerning accessibility at

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Persistent URL:
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Last modified: Wednesday, November 23 2016, 12:23:42 PM
FirstGov button  Take Pride in America button