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Open-File Report 2011–1294

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management; Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality; and Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Assessment of Potential Effects of Water Produced from Coalbed Natural Gas Development on Macroinvertebrate and Algal Communities in the Powder River and Tongue River, Wyoming and Montana, 2010

By David A. Peterson, Eric G. Hargett, and David L. Feldman

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.75 MB)Abstract

Ongoing development of coalbed natural gas in the Powder River structural basin in Wyoming and Montana led to formation of an interagency aquatic task group to address concerns about the effects of the resulting production water on biological communities in streams of the area. Ecological assessments, made from 2005–08 under the direction of the task group, indicated biological condition of the macroinvertebrate and algal communities in the middle reaches of the Powder was lower than in the upper or lower reaches. On the basis of the 2005–08 results, sampling of the macroinvertebrate and algae communities was conducted at 18 sites on the mainstem Powder River and 6 sites on the mainstem Tongue River in 2010. Sampling-site locations were selected on a paired approach, with sites located upstream and downstream of discharge points and tributaries associated with coalbed natural gas development. Differences in biological condition among site pairs were evaluated graphically and statistically using multiple lines of evidence that included macroinvertebrate and algal community metrics (such as taxa richness, relative abundance, functional feeding groups, and tolerance) and output from observed/expected (O/E) macroinvertebrate models from Wyoming and Montana.

Multiple lines of evidence indicated a decline in biological condition in the middle reaches of the Powder River, potentially indicating cumulative effects from coalbed natural gas discharges within one or more reaches between Flying E Creek and Wild Horse Creek in Wyoming. The maximum concentrations of alkalinity in the Powder River also occurred in the middle reaches.

Biological condition in the upper and lower reaches of the Powder River was variable, with declines between some site pairs, such as upstream and downstream of Dry Fork and Willow Creek, and increases at others, such as upstream and downstream of Beaver Creek. Biological condition at site pairs on the Tongue River showed an increase in one case, near the Wyoming-Montana border, and a decrease in another case, upstream of Tongue River Reservoir. Few significant differences were noted from upstream to downstream of Prairie Dog Creek, a major tributary to the Tongue River. Further study would be needed to confirm the observed patterns and choose areas to examine in greater detail.

First posted December 20, 2011

For additional information contact:
USGS Wyoming Water Science Center
2617 E. Lincolnway, Suite B
Cheyenne, WY 82001

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Suggested citation:

Peterson, D.A., Hargett, E.G., and Feldman, D.L., 2011, Assessment of potential effects of water produced from coalbed natural gas development on macroinvertebrate and algal communities in the Powder River and Tongue River, Wyoming and Montana, 2010: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011–1294, 34 p.




Streamflow, Water Quality, and Habitat

Macroinvertebrate Communities

Algal Communities

Potential Effects of Water Produced from Coalbed Natural Gas Development on Biological Communities





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