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Open-File Report 2014-1099

Prepared in cooperation with the City of Boise

Mercury Concentrations in Water, and Mercury and Selenium Concentrations in Fish from Brownlee Reservoir and Selected Sites in Boise and Snake Rivers, Idaho and Oregon, 2013

By Dorene E. MacCoy


Mercury (Hg) analyses were conducted on samples of sport fish and water collected from six sampling sites in the Boise and Snake Rivers, and Brownlee Reservoir to meet National Pollution Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permit requirements for the City of Boise, Idaho. A water sample was collected from each site during October and November 2013 by the City of Boise personnel and was analyzed by the Boise City Public Works Water Quality Laboratory. Total Hg concentrations in unfiltered water samples ranged from 0.73 to 1.21 nanograms per liter (ng/L) at five river sites; total Hg concentration was highest (8.78 ng/L) in a water sample from Brownlee Reservoir. All Hg concentrations in water samples were less than the EPA Hg chronic aquatic life criterion in Idaho (12 ng/L).

The EPA recommended a water-quality criterion of 0.30 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) methylmercury (MeHg) expressed as a fish-tissue residue value (wet-weight MeHg in fish tissue). MeHg residue in fish tissue is considered to be equivalent to total Hg in fish muscle tissue and is referred to as Hg in this report. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality adopted the EPA’s fish-tissue criterion and a reasonable potential to exceed (RPTE) threshold 20 percent lower than the criterion or greater than 0.24 mg/kg based on an average concentration of 10 fish from a receiving waterbody. NPDES permitted discharge to waters with fish having Hg concentrations exceeding 0.24 mg/kg are said to have a reasonable potential to exceed the water-quality criterion and thus are subject to additional permit obligations, such as requirements for increased monitoring and the development of a Hg minimization plan. The Idaho Fish Consumption Advisory Program (IFCAP) issues fish advisories to protect general and sensitive populations of fish consumers and has developed an action level of 0.22 mg/kg wet weight Hg in fish tissue. Fish consumption advisories are water body- and species-specific and are used to advise of allowable fish consumption from specific water bodies. The geometric mean Hg concentration of 10 fish of a single species collected from a single water body (lake or stream) in Idaho is compared to the action level to determine if a fish consumption advisory should be issued.

The U.S. Geological Survey collected and analyzed individual fillets of mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni), smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), and channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) for Hg. The median Hg concentration of 0.32 mg/kg exceeded the Idaho water-quality criterion at the site in Brownlee Reservoir. Average Hg concentrations from Brownlee Reservoir (0.32 mg/kg) and the Boise River at mouth (0.33 mg/kg) exceeded the Hg RPTE threshold (>0.24 mg/kg). IFCAP action levels also were exceeded at the sites on Brownlee Reservoir and at the mouth of the Boise River. Median Hg concentrations in fish at the remaining four river sites were less than 0.20 mg/kg with average concentrations ranging from 0.14 to 0.21 mg/kg Hg.

Selenium (Se) analysis also was conducted on one composite fish tissue sample per site to screen for general concentrations and to provide information for future risk assessments. Concentrations of Se ranged from 0.07 to 0.49 mg/kg wet weight; average concentrations were highest in smallmouth bass (0.40 mg/kg) and lowest in mountain whitefish (0.12 mg/kg).

First posted May 19, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, Idaho Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
230 Collins Road
Boise, Idaho 83702

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Suggested citation:

MacCoy, D.E., 2014, Mercury concentrations in water, and mercury and selenium concentrations in fish from Brownlee Reservoir and selected sites in Boise and Snake Rivers, Idaho and Oregon, 2013: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2014-1099, 26 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)




Purpose and Scope

Site Locations

Targeted Fish Species

Field Sampling Procedures

Laboratory Methods



References Cited

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