Surface-Water-Quality Assessment of the Yakima River Basin, Washington
Entry ID: WRIR_98_4113

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Summary
Abstract: Surface-water-quality conditions were assessed in the Yakima River Basin,
which drains 6,155 square miles of mostly forested, range, and agricultural
land in Washington. The Yakima River Basin is one of the most intensively
farmed and irrigated areas in the United States, and is often referred to as
the "Nation's Fruitbowl." Natural and anthropogenic sources of contaminants and
flow regulation control water-quality conditions throughout the basin. This
report summarizes the spatial and temporal distribution, sources, and
implications of the dissolved oxygen, water temperature, pH, suspended
sediment, nutrient, organic compound (pesticide), trace element, fecal
indicator bacteria, radionuclide, and aquatic ecology data collected during the
1987-91 water years. The Yakima River descends from a water surface altitude of
2,449 feet at the foot of Keechelus Dam to 340 feet at its mouth downstream
from Horn Rapids Dam near Richland. The basin can be divided into three
distinct river reaches on the basis of its physical characteristics. The upper
reach, which drains the Kittitas Valley, has a high gradient, with an average
streambed slope of 14 feet per mile (ft/mi) over the 74 miles from the foot of
Keechelus Dam (river mile [RM] 214.5) to just upstream from Umtanum. The middle
reach, which drains the Mid Valley, extends a distance of 33 miles from Umtanum
(RM 140.4) to just upstream from Union Gap and also has a high gradient, with
an average streambed slope of 11 ft/mi. The lower reach of the Yakima River
drains the Lower Valley and has an average streambed slope of 7 ft/mi over the
107 miles from Union Gap (RM 107.2) to the mouth of the Yakima River. These
reaches exhibited differences in water-quality conditions related to the
differences in geologic sources of contaminants and land use. Compared with the
rest of the basin, the Kittitas Valley and headwaters of the Naches River
Subbasin had relatively low concentrations and loads of suspended sediment,
nutrients, organic compounds, and fecal indicator bacteria. There were very few
failures to meet the Washington State dissolved oxygen standard or exceedances
of the water temperature and pH standards in this reach. In general, these
areas are considered to be areas of less-degraded water quality in the basin.
The pre-Tertiary metamorphic and intrusive rocks of the Cle Elum and Teanaway
River Subbasins, however, were found to be significant geologic sources of
antimony, arsenic, chromium, copper, mercury, nickel, selenium, and zinc. As a
result, the arsenic, chromium, and nickel concentrations measured in the
streambed sediment of the Kittitas Valley were 13 to 74 times higher than those
measured in the Lower Valley. The Mid and Lower Valleys had similar
water-quality conditions, governed by the intensive agricultural and irrigation
activities, highly erosive landscapes, and flow regulation. Most of the
failures to meet the Washington State standards for dissolved oxygen and
exceedances of the standards for water temperature and pH occurred in the Mid
and Lower Valleys. Agricultural drains in the Mid and Lower Valleys were found
to be significant sources of nutrients, suspended sediment, pesticides, and
fecal indicator bacteria. Downstream from the irrigation diversions near Union
Gap, summertime streamflow in the Yakima River was drastically reduced to only
a few hundred cubic feet per second. In the lower Yakima River, agricultural
return flow typically accounts for as much as 80 percent of the main stem
summertime flow near the downstream terminus of the basin. Therefore, the
water-quality characteristics of the lower Yakima River resemble those of the
agricultural drains. The highest fecal bacteria concentrations (35,000 colonies
of Escherichia coli per 100 milliliters of water) were measured in the Granger/
Sunnyside area, the location of most of the livestock in the basin. The east
side area of the Lower Valley (area east of the Yakima River) was the
predominant source area for suspended sediment and pesticides in the basin.
This area had the largest acreage of irrigated land and generally received the
largest application of pesticides. Owing to the highly erosive soils of the
area, the suspended sediment load from the east side in June 1989 (320
kilograms per day) was five or more times larger than from any other area, and
the loads of several of the more hydrophobic organic compounds were four or
more times larger. An ecological assessment of the Yakima River Basin ranked
physical, chemical, and biological conditions at impaired (degraded) sites
against reference sites in an effort to understand how land use changes
physical and chemical site characteristics and how biota respond to these
changes. For this assessment, the basin was divided into four natural
ecological categories: (1) Cascades ecoregion, (2) Eastern Cascades Slopes and
Foothills ecoregion, (3) Columbia Basin ecoregion, and (4) large rivers. Each
of these categories has a unique combination of climate and landscape features
that produces a distinctive terrestrial vegetation assemblage. In the combined
Cascades and Eastern Cascades site group, which had the fewest impaired sites,
the metals index was the only physical and chemical index that indicated any
impairment. The moderate levels of impairment noted in the invertebrate and
algal communities were not, however, associated with metals, and may have been
related to the effects of logging, although the intensity of logging was not
directly quantified in this study. Sites in the Columbia Basin site group were
all moderately or severely impaired with the exception of the two reference
sites (Umtanum Creek and Satus Creek below Dry Creek), which showed no
physical, chemical, or biological impairment. Three sites were heavily affected
by agriculture (Granger Drain, Moxee Drain, and Spring Creek) and were listed
as severely impaired by most of the physical, chemical, and biological
condition indices. Agriculture was the primary cause of the impairment of
biological communities in this site group. The primary physical and chemical
indicators of agricultural effects were nutrients, pesticides, dissolved
solids, and substrate embeddedness, which all tended to increase with
agricultural intensity. The biological effects of agriculture were manifested
by a decrease in the abundance and number of native species of fish and
invertebrates, a shift in algal communities to species indicative of eutrophic
conditions, and higher abundances. There was also an increase in the abundance
and number of nonnative fish species due to the prevalence of fish that are
largely tolerant of nutrient-rich conditions. Main stem (large river) sites
downstream from the city of Yakima exhibited severe impairment of fish
communities associated with high levels of pesticides in fish tissues and the
presence of external anomalies on fish.

The purpose of this surface-water study was to identify and describe: 1) The
occurrence and distribution of nutrients, organic compounds, major and trace
elements, suspended sediment. fecal indicator bacteria, and aquatic biota
(including insects, fish, clams, and vegetation); 2) the temporal variation of
water parameters in media that include filtered water, unfiltered water,
suspended sediment, streambed sediment, and aquatic biota; 3) the suitability
of surface water for the preservation of aquatic life and protection of human
health; 4) the major natural and human-related sources of contaminants in the
Yakima River Basin that affect observed water-quality conditions; and 5) the
implications of the assessment study with regard to future monitoring
activities, assessment studies, and water management.

The area of study was the Yakima River Basin in Washington.

Monthly and annual mean daily loads were calculated using a regression model
that assumes a linear relationship between the natural logarithm of
concentration (log C) and the natural logarithm of streamflow (log Q). The
model was creating using the ESTIMATOR program, version 94.06 (Cohn, Caulder,
and others, 1992). The ESTIMATOR program regresses log C against log Q and the
sine and cosine of time (in decimal years, adjusted by 2 pi, for a yearly
cycle) and generates equations for calculating monthly and annual mean daily
load estimates. Monthly mean daily loads are the mean of the individual daily
mean loads for each month and annual mean daily loads are the mean of the
individual daily mean loads for each year.

The ESTIMATOR program uses a minimum variance unbiased estimate (Cohn and
others, 1989), which reduces the bias introduced when transforming load
estimates from a log-regression equation (log space) back into arithmetic units
(real space). The program also incorporates an adjusted maximum likelihood
estimator (Cohn, Gilroy, and Baier, 1992) to deal with censored data values,
values that are below a specific "detection limit". The ESTIMATOR program is
ideal for use in hydrologic studies, because water-quality data generally show
a log C-log Q relationship and commonly contain censored data. The ESTIMATOR
program is widely used in the USGS, including about 50 current NAWQA studies.
It is also used by the Maryland Department of the Environment on its Chesapeake
Bay projects and by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

The information for this metadata was taken from the Online Publications of the
Oregon District at http://oregon.usgs.gov/pubs_dir/online_list.html .

Related URL
Link: VIEW EXTENDED METADATA
Description: Metadata in National Biological Information Infrastructure format.


Geographic Coverage
 N: 48.0 S: 45.0  E: -119.0  W: -122.0

Data Set Citation
Dataset Originator/Creator: Jennifer L. Morace, Gregory J. Fuhrer, Joseph F. Rinella, Stuart W. McKenzie, and Others
Dataset Title: Surface-Water-Quality Assessment of the Yakima River Basin, Washington
Dataset Release Date: 1999
Dataset Release Place: Portland, Oregon
Dataset Publisher: U.S. Geological Survey
Data Presentation Form: database


Temporal Coverage
Start Date: 1986-01-01
Stop Date: 1991-11-01


Location Keywords
CONTINENT > NORTH AMERICA > UNITED STATES OF AMERICA > OREGON


Science Keywords
AGRICULTURE >AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS >FERTILIZERS    [Definition]
AGRICULTURE >AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS >PESTICIDES    [Definition]
BIOSPHERE >VEGETATION >NITROGEN    [Definition]
BIOSPHERE >VEGETATION >NUTRIENTS    [Definition]
BIOSPHERE >VEGETATION >PHOSPHORUS    [Definition]
HUMAN DIMENSIONS >ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS >CONTAMINANT LEVELS/SPILLS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >SURFACE WATER >DRAINAGE    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >SURFACE WATER >RIVERS/STREAMS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >SURFACE WATER >RIVERS/STREAMS >YAKIMA RIVER    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >CONTAMINANTS >METALS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >CONTAMINANTS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >DISSOLVED GASES    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >DISSOLVED GASES >DISSOLVED OXYGEN    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >HYDROCARBONS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >NITROGEN COMPOUNDS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >NUTRIENTS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >PH    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >PHOSPHOROUS COMPOUNDS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >SUSPENDED SOLIDS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >TRACE METALS    [Definition]
TERRESTRIAL HYDROSPHERE >WATER QUALITY/WATER CHEMISTRY >WATER TEMPERATURE    [Definition]
BIOSPHERE >AQUATIC ECOSYSTEMS >RIVERS/STREAM HABITAT >YAKIMA RIVER BASIN    [Definition]
BIOSPHERE >ECOLOGICAL DYNAMICS >COMMUNITY DYNAMICS >INDICATOR SPECIES    [Definition]
BIOSPHERE >ECOLOGICAL DYNAMICS >ECOTOXICOLOGY >SPECIES BIOACCUMULATION    [Definition]


ISO Topic Category
FARMING
BIOTA


Quality
Various aspects of the data were surface water quality were examined
including dissolved oxygen, water temperature and pH; suspended
sediment and turbidity; nutrients, pesticides and other organic
compounds; trace elements; fecal indicator bacteria, radiocnuclides,
ecological assessment. The completeness varied for each study.


Access Constraints
None


Use Constraints
None


Keywords
human health
aquatic life
trace element enrichment
agricultural runoff
suspended sediment
nutrients
ecological conditions
biological conditions
biological indices
biological communities
future considerations
suspended sediment and nutrients
pesticides
ecology
Biological Data Profile
BDP


Data Set Progress
COMPLETE


Data Center
Water Resource Division, Oregon, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior    [Information]
Data Center URL: http://oregon.usgs.gov

Data Center Personnel
Name: DENNIS D. LYNCH
Phone: (503) 251-3200
Fax: (503) 251-3470
Email: ddlynch at usgs.gov
Contact Address:
U.S. Geological Survey
10615 S.E. Cherry Blossom Drive
City: Portland
Province or State: Oregon
Postal Code: 97216-3159
Country: USA


Personnel
JENNIFER L. MORACE
Role: TECHNICAL CONTACT
Phone: (503) 251-3229
Fax: (503) 251-3470
Email: jlmorace at usgs.gov


TYLER B. STEVENS
Role: DIF AUTHOR
Phone: (301) 614-6898
Fax: 301-614-5268
Email: Tyler.B.Stevens at nasa.gov
Contact Address:
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Global Change Master Directory
City: Greenbelt
Province or State: MD
Postal Code: 20771
Country: USA


Publications/References
Morace, J.L., Fuhrer, G.J., Rinella, J.F., McKenzie, S.W. And others, 1999.
Surface-Water-Quality Assessment of the Yakima River Basin in Washington:
Overview of major findings, 1987-91 U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Resources
Investigations Report-98-4113. Portland, Oregon. U.S. Geological Survey.
http://oregon.usgs.gov/pubs_dir/Pdf/98-4113.pdf

Creation and Review Dates
DIF Creation Date: 2001-06-27
Last DIF Revision Date: 2012-12-21
Future DIF Review Date: 2002-06-27

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