U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5146

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Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5146

Prepared in cooperation with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

Water-Quality Characteristics for Sites in the Tongue, Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River Drainage Basins, Wyoming and Montana, Water Years 2001–05, with Temporal Patterns of Selected Long-Term Water-Quality Data

By Melanie L. Clark and Jon P. Mason

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Abstract

Water-quality sampling was conducted regularly at stream sites within or near the Powder River structural basin in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana during water years 2001–05 (October 1, 2000, to September 30, 2005) to characterize water quality in an area of coalbed natural gas development. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, characterized the water quality at 22 sampling sites in the Tongue, Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins. Data for general hydrology, field measurements, major-ion chemistry, and selected trace elements were summarized, and specific conductance and sodium-adsorption ratios were evaluated for relations with streamflow and seasonal variability. Trend analysis for water years 1991–2005 was conducted for selected sites and constituents to assess change through time.

Average annual runoff was highly variable among the stream sites. Generally, streams that have headwaters in the Bighorn Mountains had more runoff as a result of higher average annual precipitation than streams that have headwaters in the plains. The Powder River at Moorhead, Mont., had the largest average annual runoff (319,000 acre-feet) of all the sites; however, streams in the Tongue River drainage basin had the highest runoff per unit area of the four major drainage basins. Annual runoff in all major drainage basins was less than average during 2001–05 because of drought conditions. Consequently, water-quality samples collected during the study period may not represent long-term water-quality con­ditions for all sites.

Water-quality characteristics were highly variable generally because of streamflow variability, geologic controls, and potential land-use effects. The range of median specific-conductance values among sites was smallest in the Tongue River drainage basin. Median values in that basin ranged from 643 microsiemens per centimeter at 25 degrees Celsius (µS/cm at 25°C) on the Tongue River to 1,460 µS/cm at 25°C on Prairie Dog Creek. The Tongue River drainage basin has the largest percentage of area underlain by Mesozoic-age and older rocks and by more resistant rocks. In addition, the higher annual precipitation and a steeper gradient in this basin compared to basins in the plains produce relatively fast stream velocities, which result in a short contact time between stream waters and basin materials. The Powder River drainage basin, which has the largest drainage area and most diverse site conditions, had the largest range of median specific-conductance values among the four major drainage basins. Median values in that basin ranged from 680 µS/cm at 25°C on Clear Creek to 5,950 µS/cm at 25°C on Salt Creek. Median specific-conductance values among sites in the Cheyenne River drainage basin ranged from 1,850 µS/cm at 25°C on Black Thunder Creek to 4,680 µS/cm at 25°C on the Cheyenne River. The entire Cheyenne River drainage basin is in the plains, which have low precipitation, soluble geologic materials, and relatively low gradients that produce slow stream velocities and long contact times. Median specific-conductance values among sites in the Belle Fourche River drainage basin ranged from 1,740 µS/cm at 25°C on Caballo Creek to 2,800 µS/cm at 25°C on Donkey Creek.

Water in the study area ranged from a magnesium-calcium-bicarbonate type for some sites in the Tongue River drainage basin to a sodium-sulfate type at many sites in the Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins. Little Goose Creek, Goose Creek, and the Tongue River in the Tongue River drainage basin, and Clear Creek in the Powder River drainage basin, which have headwaters in the Bighorn Mountains, consistently had the smallest median dissolved-sodium concentrations, sodium-adsorption ratios, dissolved-sulfate concentrations, and dissolved-solids concentrations. Salt Creek, Wild Horse Creek, Little Powder River, and the Cheyenne River, which have headwaters in the plains, tended to have the largest median concentrations of these constituents. Salt Creek had large concentrations of several constituents, including dissolved chloride, as a result of saline ground waters discharged to Salt Creek or its tributaries from conventional oil and gas production. Dissolved-chloride concentrations frequently were greater than State of Wyoming water-quality criteria in samples from Salt Creek and on the Powder River at sites downstream from Salt Creek.

Total-aluminum, dissolved-arsenic, total-barium, total-beryllium, dissolved-iron, dissolved-manganese, and total-selenium concentrations were variable across the drainage basins. Median total-aluminum concentrations were greater than 100 micrograms per liter at most sites. In contrast, concentrations of other constituents, such as total beryllium, generally were small; median concentrations for beryllium were less than 0.1 microgram per liter at many sites. Total aluminum and dissolved manganese were the trace elements that most frequently occurred in concentrations greater than established water-quality criteria for Wyoming.

An analysis of specific conductance and sodium-adsorption ratios indicated both constituents generally had an inverse relation with streamflow. Land-use activities that may modify natural stream characteristics may have weakened the constituent and streamflow relations at some sites. Seasonal variability in specific conductance and sodium-adsorption ratios generally was significant (p-values less than 0.10) for streams that have headwaters in mountainous areas. Seasonal variability in specific conductance generally was not significant (p-values greater than 0.10) for streams that have head-waters in the plains; however, seasonal variability generally was observed for sodium-adsorption ratios at these sites.

Eight sites in the Tongue, Powder, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins having sufficient long-term data were evaluated for trends in specific conductance during water years 1991–2005. Trends in specific conductance were not significant (p-values greater than 0.10) at the eight sites when values were flow-adjusted for streamflow variability. Four sites in the Powder River drainage basin also were evaluated for trends in sodium-adsorption ratios. Upward trends in flow-adjusted sodium-adsorption ratios were significant (p-values less than 0.10) for a site on Salt Creek and two sites on the Powder River. A downward trend in flow-adjusted values for sodium-adsorption ratios was significant for a site on the Little Powder River. The causes of the trends were not determined.


Suggested citation:

Clark, M.L., and Mason, J.P., 2007, Water-quality characteristics for sites in the Tongue, Powder, Cheyenne, and Belle Fourche River drainage basins, Wyoming and Montana, water years 2001–2005, with temporal patterns of selected long-term water-quality data: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007–5146, 65 p.



Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Previous Investigations

Study Area Description

Acknowledgments

Data Collection and Analysis

Sampling Methods

Data-Analysis Methods

Quality Control

General Hydrology

Water-Quality Characteristics for Water Years 2001–05

Field Measurements

Summaries for Water Years 2001–05

Comparisons to Water-Quality Standards and Criteria

Major-Ion Chemistry

Water Types

Summaries for Water Years 2001–05

Comparisons to Water-Quality Standards and Criteria

Trace Elements

Summaries for Water Years 2001–05

Comparisons to Water-Quality Criteria

Specific Conductance and Sodium-Adsorption Ratio Relations with Streamflow and Seasonal Variability for Water Years 2001–05

Relations with Streamflow

Seasonal Variability

Temporal Patterns of Selected Long-Term Water-Quality Data

Comparisons to Historical Data from Water Years 1975–81

Trend Analysis for Water Years 1991–2005

Summary

References

 


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