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Oklahoma Water Science Center



Scientific Investigation Report 2006-5175

Phosphorus Concentrations, Loads, and Yields in the Illinois River Basin, Arkansas and Oklahoma, 2000–2004

By Robert L. Tortorelli and Barbara E. Pickup


Cover of Sir-2006-5175


The Illinois River and tributaries, Flint Creek and Baron Fork, are designated scenic rivers in Oklahoma. Recent phosphorus levels in streams in the basin have resulted in the growth of excess algae, which have limited the aesthetic benefits of water bodies in the basin, especially the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has established a standard for total phosphorus not to exceed the 30-day geometric mean concentration of 0.037 milligram per liter in Oklahoma Scenic Rivers. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, conducted an investigation to summarize phosphorus concentrations and provide estimates of phosphorus loads, yields, and flow-weighted concentrations in the Illinois River and tributaries from January 2000 through December 2004. Data from water-quality samples collected from 2000 to 2004 were used to summarize phosphorus concentrations and estimate phosphorus loads, yields, and mean flow-weighted concentrations in the Illinois River basin for three 3-year periods—2000–2002, 2001–2003, and 2002–2004, to update a previous report that used data from water-quality samples from 1997 to 2001. This report provides information needed to advance knowledge of the regional hydrologic system and understanding of hydrologic processes, and provides hydrologic data and results useful to multiple parties for interstate compacts.

Phosphorus concentrations in the Illinois River basin were significantly greater in runoff samples than in base-flow samples. Phosphorus concentrations generally decreased with increasing base flow, from dilution, and decreased in the downstream direction in the Illinois River from the Watts to Tahlequah stations. Phosphorus concentrations generally increased with runoff, possibly because of phosphorus resuspension, stream bank erosion, and the addition of phosphorus from nonpoint sources.

Estimated mean annual phosphorus loads were greater at the Illinois River stations than at Flint Creek and Baron Fork. Annual total loads in the Illinois River from Watts to Tahlequah, increased slightly for the period 2000–2002 and decreased slightly for the periods 2001–2003 and 2002–2004. Estimated mean annual base-flow loads at stations on the Illinois River were about 11 to 20 times greater than base-flow loads at the station on Baron Fork and 4 to 10 times greater than base-flow loads at the station on Flint Creek. Estimated mean annual runoff loads ranged from 68 to 96 percent of the estimated mean annual total phosphorus loads from 2000–2004. Estimated mean seasonal base-flow loads were generally greatest in spring (March through May) and were least in fall (September through November). Estimated mean seasonal runoff loads generally were greatest in summer (June through August) for the period 2000–2002, but were greatest in winter (December through February) for the period 2001–2003, and greatest in spring for the period 2002–2004.

Estimated mean total yields of phosphorus ranged from 192 to 811 pounds per year per square mile, with greatest yields being reported for Illinois River near Watts (576 to 811 pounds per year per square mile), and the least yields being reported for Baron Fork at Eldon for the periods 2000–2002 and 2001–2003 (501 and 192 pounds per year per square mile) and for Illinois River near Tahlequah for the period 2002–2004 (370 pounds per year per square mile). Estimated mean flow-weighted concentrations were more than 10 times greater than the median (0.022 milligram per liter) and were consistently greater than the 75th percentile of flow-weighted phosphorus concentrations in samples collected at relatively undeveloped basins of the United States (0.037 milligram per liter). In addition, flow-weighted phosphorus concentrations in 2000–2002 at all Illinois River stations and at Flint Creek near Kansas were equal to or greater than the 75th percentile of all National Water-Quality Assessment Program stations in the United States (0.29 milligram per liter).

The estimated mean annual phosphorus load entering Lake Tenkiller ranged from about 391,000 pounds per year to 712,000 pounds per year, and from about 83 to 90 percent of the load was transported to the lake by runoff.





Purpose and Scope

Study Area Description

Streamflow in the Illinois River Basin



Water-Quality Data Collection and Analysis

Streamflow Separation

Statistical Tests

Load and Yield Estimation

Phosphorus Concentrations, Loads, and Yields in the Illinois River Basin


Estimated Mean Annual Loads

Estimated Mean Seasonal Loads

Estimated Mean Yields

Estimated Mean Flow-Weighted Concentrations

Estimated Mean Annual Phosphorus Loads into Lake Tenkiller


Selected References


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