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Aquatic biological communities and associated habitats at selected sites in the Big Wood River Watershed, south-central Idaho, 2014

September 28, 2016

Assessments of streamflow (discharge) parameters, water quality, physical habitat, and biological communities were completed between May and September 2014 as part of a monitoring program in the Big Wood River watershed of south-central Idaho. The sampling was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with Blaine County, Trout Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, and the Wood River Land Trust to help identify the status of aquatic resources at selected locations in the watershed. Information in this report provides a basis with which to evaluate and monitor the long-term health of the Big Wood River and its major tributaries. Sampling sites were co-located with existing U.S. Geological Survey streamgaging stations: three on the main stem Big Wood River and four on the North Fork Big Wood River (North Fork), Warm Springs Creek (Warm Sp), Trail Creek (Trail Ck), and East Fork Big Wood River (East Fork) tributaries.

The analytical results and quality-assurance information for water quality, physical habitat, and biological community samples collected at study sites during 2 weeks in September 2014 are summarized. Water-quality data include concentrations of major nutrients, suspended sediment, dissolved oxygen, and fecal-coliform bacteria. To assess the potential effects of nutrient enrichment on algal growth, concentrations of periphyton biomass (chlorophyll-a and ash free dry weight) in riffle habitats were determined at each site. Physical habitat parameters include stream channel morphology, habitat volume, instream structure, substrate composition, and riparian vegetative cover. Biological data include taxa richness, abundance, and stream-health indicator metrics for macroinvertebrate and fish communities. Statistical summaries of the water-quality, habitat, and biological data are provided along with discussion of how these findings relate to the health of aquatic resources in the Big Wood River watershed.

Seasonal discharge patterns using statistical summaries of daily discharge from selected sites are reported for water years 2012–15. Results showed that annual average daily mean discharge increased from the Big Wood River near Ketchum, ID (BW Ketchum) downstream to the Big Wood River at Hailey, ID (BW Hailey), but decreased by nearly 50 percent from BW Hailey downstream to Big Wood River at Stanton Crossing near Bellevue, ID (BW Stanton). Annual variability in daily mean discharge among main-stem sites was highest at BW Stanton, suggesting that this part of the river may be subject to some level of flow alteration.

Hydrologic alterations resulting in flow reduction can contribute to higher water temperature, especially during the summer months when conditions are often most stressful to fish and other stream organisms. Daily water temperature and water temperature trends from June to September 2014 are reported for select tributary and main-stem sites on the Big Wood River and can be used to assess the potential for biological impairment based on aquatic life temperature criteria for cold-water streams. The State of Idaho maximum temperature criteria for protection of cold-water aquatic life of 22 °C was exceeded at Warm Sp and BW Stanton during summer 2014, but at none of the other main-stem or tributary sites. The 13 °C critical temperature criterion for salmonid spawning was exceeded in early July 2014 at BW Ketchum and BW Hailey near the end of the rainbow trout critical spawning and rearing period. Temperature exceedances were most frequent at BW Stanton, where exceedances for rainbow trout and brown trout occurred from May through early July 2014 during most of the critical spawning and rearing period.

Water quality and habitat availability did not seem to be limiting for fish or other aquatic organisms at most sites in the Big Wood River watershed. Water quality assessments in September 2014 determined no exceedances of total maximum daily load target levels. The availability and quality of habitat was limited at BW Stanton, where shallow-water habitat conditions prevailed.

Macroinvertebrate community diversity was high at all sites except for BW Stanton, where low community diversity was attributed to low species richness and high abundances of a few tolerant taxa. Presence of low species diversity and high macroinvertebrate tolerance values at BW Stanton indicates that benthic community condition and stream health were reduced at that location.

Fish surveys done in September 2014 did not indicate any significant reductions in native fish communities in the Big Wood River or its tributaries. Native rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and Wood River sculpin (Cottus leiopomus) were the dominant fish species in the drainage and were found at all tributary and main-stem sites. Non-native brown (Salmo trutta) and brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) were limited to lower drainage sites on the Big Wood River (BW Hailey and BW Stanton), and occurred in relatively low numbers.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Aquatic biological communities and associated habitats at selected sites in the Big Wood River Watershed, south-central Idaho, 2014
DOI 10.3133/sir20165128
Authors Dorene E. MacCoy, Terry M. Short
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2016-5128
Index ID sir20165128
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Idaho Water Science Center

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