The Souris River Basin is an international basin in southeast Saskatchewan, north-central North Dakota, and southwest Manitoba. Sustained exceedances of water-quality objectives for total phosphorus, sodium, sulfate, total dissolved solids, and total iron have been reported since the late 1990s at the two binational sites on the Souris River (Souris River near Sherwood, North Dakota [U.S. Geological Survey station 05114000] and Souris River near Westhope, N. Dak. [U.S. Geological Survey station 05124000]). To understand conditions at the binational sites, it is important to understand water-quality changes on a basin-wide scale. Because streamflow is highly variable in the basin and changes in streamflow affect water-quality conditions, it is particularly important to use a trend-analysis method that accounts for changes in streamflow. Trends in water-quality concentrations can be affected by human-induced changes on the landscape or natural changes in land-runoff interactions that are driven by climate patterns and reflected by changes in streamflow (commonly referred to as “hydroclimatic variability”). In the primarily agricultural Souris River Basin, human-induced changes that are likely to affect trends are widespread changes in agricultural management such as fertilizer application, tilling practices, and crop types, as well as dam emplacement and artificial drainage. Around 1970, there was a long-term natural (hydroclimatic) change in the basin in which a significant transition from a dry climate state to a wet climate state resulted in higher streamflow in the basin. To assist the International Souris River Board in assessing current water-quality conditions in the Souris River Basin and exceedances of water-quality objectives at the binational sites, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the International Joint Commission, completed a comprehensive analysis for selected ions, nutrients, and trace metals for many sites in the basin that included descriptive water-quality statistics, trend analysis using a trend method that considers interannual hydroclimatic variability, and an assessment of exceedances of the water-quality objectives for the binational sites.
Water-quality and streamflow or reservoir inflow or outflow data were compiled for 34 sites (30 stream sites and four reservoir sites) and 23 constituents with established water-quality objectives from 1970 to 2020 in the Souris River Basin and were used for descriptive statistics and water-quality trend analysis. Median total dissolved solids, sulfate, and sodium concentrations were low in the headwaters of the Souris River and some of the highest median concentrations were measured in the upper basin. At main-stem Souris River sites, all median sodium concentrations were greater than the binational water-quality objective. Median total phosphorus concentrations in the Souris River Basin were highest in the headwaters of the Souris River and all sites had median concentrations greater than the water-quality objective. Median total iron concentrations were highly variable across the basin, and for most main-stem sites, median concentrations were greater than or equal to the water-quality objective.
During the recent period (2009–19), the annual flow-averaged concentrations of total dissolved solids and sulfate increased for nearly all stream sites with most sites having mildly significant or significant increases. One-half of the sites had an annual flow-averaged geometric mean concentration greater than the total dissolved solids water-quality objective, and four sites had sulfate increases greater than 100 milligrams per liter. Trends in annual flow-averaged concentrations of sodium and chloride generally were small and nonsignificant. Most sites had concentrations greater than the sodium water-quality objective, whereas all sites had concentrations much less than the chloride water-quality objective. Annual flow-averaged geometric mean concentration of total phosphorus decreased for nearly all sites across the Souris River Basin, but all sites had concentrations greater than the total phosphorus water-quality objective for the entire period. Small and nonsignificant changes in annual flow-averaged geometric mean concentration of total iron were detected at all sites but the binational site at Sherwood, N. Dak., and by 2019 all sites had concentrations greater than the total iron water-quality objective. For the reservoir sites, during 2000–15, mostly significant increases for total dissolved solids, sulfate, and sodium were detected, whereas changes in total phosphorus and total iron were mixed.
During the historical period (1976–2019), large and consistent increases in total dissolved solids and sulfate have occurred since the late 1980s, with the largest increases and the most sites with mildly significant or significant increases generally occurring during the middle period (1988–2005). Large and significant or mildly significant increases in sodium concentrations occurred at eight of 10 sites in the middle period (1988–2005), and by the late period (2005–19) changes were small and nonsignificant. Similar to other basins in the region, such as the Red River of the North and Heart River, large and overall consistent increases since the late 1980s in total dissolved solids and sulfate in the Souris River Basin suggest that long-term natural (hydroclimatic) processes are large contributors to increases in the concentration of salts in streams and reservoirs associated with the onset of wetter conditions. The concurrent increases in sulfate and sodium concentrations at all sites during the middle period (1988–2005) suggest that sodium-sulfate evaporite dissolution may be a factor contributing to increases.
Total phosphorus concentrations oscillated between increasing and decreasing during the historical period, with concentrations increasing during the first trend period (1976–88) and decreasing in the fourth trend period (2009–19) to the lowest flow-averaged geometric mean concentration by 2019 for most sites. During the historical period, changes in total iron concentrations were mostly nonsignificant and generally small, and variability in total iron concentrations likely affected the ability to detect statistically significant changes in concentration.
The probability of exceeding the water-quality objective for total dissolved solids, sulfate, and sodium increased between 1976 and 2019 for the binational sites, especially for sulfate, which more than doubled for Souris River near Sherwood, N. Dak. and increased more than seven times for Souris River near Westhope, N. Dak. Total phosphorus and total iron concentrations for the binational sites were likely to exceed the water-quality objective for most of the year, but seasonal patterns of total phosphorus and total iron concentrations were different between the sites, suggesting that different factors may affect concentrations at different times of the year. For sodium, total phosphorus, and total iron, exceedance of the water-quality objective most of the time is not unexpected given that the flow-averaged geometric mean concentration for these three constituents for most sites across the basin are greater than the water-quality objective for most of the period. If natural processes are affecting total dissolved solids and sulfate concentrations, concentrations would be expected to vary with time, and as a result, extended periods of concentrations greater or less than the water-quality objective are likely to occur depending upon climatic conditions.
A better understanding of the state of water quality across the Souris River Basin is beneficial to understanding and interpreting water-quality conditions at the two Souris River binational sites. The most consistent spatial and temporal change observed for this study was large and consistent increases in sulfate and total dissolved solids among tributary and main-stem sites since the late 1980s. For sulfate and total dissolved solids, wetter climatic conditions combined with naturally occurring and abundant sources of sulfate likely contributed to sustained exceedances of water-quality objectives in recent decades, and extended periods of concentrations greater than or less than the water-quality objective are likely to occur depending on climatic conditions. For sodium, total iron, and total phosphorus, sustained exceedances of the current water-quality objective likely will continue because most sites across the basin had flow-averaged geometric mean concentrations greater than the water-quality objective; and during the 43-year period of analysis, regardless of climatic conditions, exceedances were consistently greater than the water-quality objective. Further investigation into the factors causing increasing sulfate concentrations and a better understanding of reservoir dynamics would enhance the understanding of changes in water-quality conditions in the Souris River Basin.
The basin-wide approach of this report provided an improved understanding of water-quality conditions in the Souris River Basin, and results can be used to inform the current water-quality objectives, inform potential changes to water management in the basin, and serve as a starting point for tracking future progress. Gaps in understanding of water-quality conditions can be closed through continued monitoring and further investigation into causes behind changes in water-quality conditions identified in this report.
|Title||Comprehensive water-quality trend analysis for selected sites and constituents in the International Souris River Basin, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada, and North Dakota, United States, 1970–2020|
|Authors||Rochelle A. Nustad, Wyatt S. Tatge|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Dakota Water Science Center|