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Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5220

Prepared in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality

Evaluation of Total Phosphorus Mass Balance in the Lower Boise River, Southwestern Idaho

By Alexandra B. Etheridge

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (2.3 MB)Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, developed spreadsheet mass-balance models for total phosphorus using results from three synoptic sampling periods conducted in the lower Boise River watershed during August and October 2012, and March 2013. The modeling reach spanned 46.4 river miles (RM) along the Boise River from Veteran’s Memorial Parkway in Boise, Idaho (RM 50.2), to Parma, Idaho (RM 3.8). The USGS collected water-quality samples and measured streamflow at 14 main-stem Boise River sites, two Boise River north channel sites, two sites on the Snake River upstream and downstream of its confluence with the Boise River, and 17 tributary and return-flow sites. Additional samples were collected from treated effluent at six wastewater treatment plants and two fish hatcheries. The Idaho Department of Water Resources quantified diversion flows in the modeling reach.

Total phosphorus mass-balance models were useful tools for evaluating sources of phosphorus in the Boise River during each sampling period. The timing of synoptic sampling allowed the USGS to evaluate phosphorus inputs to and outputs from the Boise River during irrigation season, shortly after irrigation ended, and soon before irrigation resumed. Results from the synoptic sampling periods showed important differences in surface-water and groundwater distribution and phosphorus loading. In late August 2012, substantial streamflow gains to the Boise River occurred from Middleton (RM 31.4) downstream to Parma (RM 3.8). Mass-balance model results indicated that point and nonpoint sources (including groundwater) contributed phosphorus loads to the Boise River during irrigation season. Groundwater exchange within the Boise River in October 2012 and March 2013 was not as considerable as that measured in August 2012. However, groundwater discharge to agricultural tributaries and drains during non-irrigation season was a large source of discharge and phosphorus in the lower Boise River in October 2012 and March 2013. Model results indicate that point sources represent the largest contribution of phosphorus to the Boise River year round, but that reductions in point and nonpoint source phosphorus loads may be necessary to achieve seasonal total phosphorus concentration targets at Parma (RM 3.8) from May 1 through September 30, as set by the 2004 Snake River-Hells Canyon Total Maximum Daily Load document. The mass-balance models do not account for biological or depositional instream processes, but are useful indicators of locations where appreciable phosphorus uptake or release by aquatic plants may occur.

First posted December 23, 2013

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:

Etheridge, A.B., 2013, Evaluation of total phosphorus mass balance in the lower Boise River, southwestern Idaho: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5220, 70 p.,

ISSN-2328-0328 (online)




Study Methods

Water-Quality and Periphyton Sampling Results

Groundwater and Surface-Water Interaction

Model Results

Sources of Phosophorus

Sensitivity Analysis

Areas of Further Study


References Cited

Appendix 1. Spreadsheet Mass-Balance Models

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