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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5188

Prepared in cooperation with Teton Conservation District

Characterization of Water Quality and Biological Communities, Fish Creek, Teton County, Wyoming, 2007–08

By Cheryl A. Eddy-Miller, David A. Peterson, Jerrod D. Wheeler, and Daniel J. Leemon

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Fish Creek, a tributary to the Snake River, is about 25 river kilometers long and is located in Teton County in western Wyoming near the town of Wilson. Public concern about nuisance growths of aquatic plants in Fish Creek have been increasing in recent years. To address this concern, the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a study in cooperation with the Teton Conservation District to characterize the water quality and biological communities in Fish Creek. Water-quality samples were collected for analyses of physical properties and water chemistry (nutrients, nitrate isotopes, and wastewater chemicals) between March 2007 and October 2008 from seven surface-water sites and three groundwater wells. During this same period, aquatic plant and macroinvertebrate samples were collected and habitat characteristics were measured at the surface-water sites.

The main objectives of this study were to (1) evaluate nutrient concentrations (that influence biological indicators of eutrophication) and potential sources of nutrients by using stable isotope analysis and other indicator chemicals (such as caffeine and disinfectants) that could provide evidence of anthropogenic sources, such as wastewater or septic tank contamination in Fish Creek and adjacent groundwater, and (2) characterize the algal, macrophyte, and macroinvertebrate communities and habitat of Fish Creek.

Nitrate was the dominant species of dissolved nitrogen present in all samples and was the only bioavailable species detected at concentrations greater than the laboratory reporting level in all surface-water samples. Average concentrations of dissolved nitrate in surface water were largest in samples collected from the two sites with seasonal flow near Teton Village and decreased downstream; the smallest concentration was at downstream site A-Wck. Concentrations of dissolved nitrate in groundwater were consistently greater than concentrations in corresponding surface-water sites during the same sampling event. Orthophosphate was the primary dissolved species of phosphorus present in all surface-water and groundwater samples. The average concentration of dissolved orthophosphate in surface water was largest in samples collected from near Teton Village; samples from all other sites had similar average concentrations. Concentrations of dissolved orthophosphate in groundwater also were typically greater than concentrations in corresponding surface-water sites during the same sampling event.

The aquatic plant communities in Fish Creek typically were composed of a mixture of macrophytes, macroalgae, microalgae, and moss. The composition of the aquatic plant community in Fish Creek appeared to shift in the downstream direction in 2007. On average, the proportion of macrophytes ranged from about 1 percent at site A-R1U, the most upstream site, to 54 percent of the plant community at site A-R6D, the farthest downstream site sampled during 2007. The downstream increase in macrophytes was accompanied by a downstream decrease in microalgae. The average proportion of microalgae ranged from 80 percent at site A-R1U to 24 percent at site A-R6D. The proportion of the macroalgae Cladophora in the aquatic plant community was relatively high at sites A-Wck and A-R3D in both 2007 and 2008.

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First posted September 30, 2010

For additional information contact:

USGS Wyoming Water Science Center
2617 E. Lincolnway, Suite B
Cheyenne, WY 82001

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Suggested citation:

Eddy-Miller, C.A., Peterson, D.A., Wheeler, J.D., and Leemon, D.J., 2010, Characterization of water quality and biological communities, Fish Creek, Teton County, Wyoming, 2007–08: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5188, 70 p., available at




Description of Study Area

Methods of Study Design and Sample Collection

Water-Quality Characterizations

Biological Community and Habitat Characterization

Ecological Relations


References Cited

Supplemental Data Graphs

Supplemental Data Tables

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