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Concentrations, loads, and yields of total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and suspended sediment and bacteria concentrations in the Wister Lake Basin, Oklahoma and Arkansas, 2011-13

September 23, 2014

The Poteau Valley Improvement Authority uses Wister Lake in southeastern Oklahoma as a public water supply. Total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and suspended sediments from agricultural runoff and discharges from wastewater treatment plants and other sources have degraded water quality in the lake. As lake-water quality has degraded, water-treatment cost, chemical usage, and sludge production have increased for the Poteau Valley Improvement Authority.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the Poteau Valley Improvement Authority, investigated and summarized concentrations of total phosphorus, total nitrogen, suspended sediment, and bacteria (Escherichia coli and Enterococcus sp.) in surface water flowing to Wister Lake. Estimates of total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and suspended sediment loads, yields, and flow-weighted mean concentrations of total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations were made for the Wister Lake Basin for a 3-year period from October 2010 through September 2013. Data from water samples collected at fixed time increments during base-flow conditions and during runoff conditions at the Poteau River at Loving, Okla. (USGS station 07247015), the Poteau River near Heavener, Okla. (USGS station 07247350), and the Fourche Maline near Leflore, Okla. (USGS station 07247650), water-quality stations were used to evaluate water quality over the range of streamflows in the basin. These data also were collected to estimate annual constituent loads and yields by using regression models.

At the Poteau River stations, total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and suspended sediment concentrations in surface-water samples were significantly larger in samples collected during runoff conditions than in samples collected during base-flow conditions. At the Fourche Maline station, in contrast, concentrations of these constituents in water samples collected during runoff conditions were not significantly larger than concentrations during base-flow conditions. Flow-weighted mean total phosphorus concentrations at all three stations from 2011 to 2013 were several times larger than the Oklahoma State Standard for Scenic Rivers (0.037 milligrams per liter [mg/L]), with the largest flow-weighted phosphorus concentrations typically being measured at the Poteau River at Loving, Okla., station. Flow-weighted mean total nitrogen concentrations did not vary substantially between the Poteau River stations and the Fourche Maline near Leflore, Okla., station. At all of the sampled water-quality stations, bacteria (Escherichia coli and Enterococcus sp.) concentrations were substantially larger in water samples collected during runoff conditions than in water samples collected during base-flow conditions from 2011 to 2013.

Estimated annual loads of total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and suspended sediment in the Poteau River stations during runoff conditions ranged from 82 to 98 percent of the total annual loads of those constituents. Estimated annual loads of total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and suspended sediment in the Fourche Maline during runoff conditions ranged from 86 to nearly 100 percent of the total annual loads.

Estimated seasonal total phosphorus loads generally were smallest during base-flow and runoff conditions in autumn. Estimated seasonal total phosphorus loads during base-flow conditions tended to be largest in winter and during runoff conditions tended to be largest in the spring. Estimated seasonal total nitrogen loads tended to be smallest in autumn during base-flow and runoff conditions and largest in winter during runoff conditions. Estimated seasonal suspended sediment loads tended to be smallest during base-flow conditions in the summer and smallest during runoff conditions in the autumn. The largest estimated seasonal suspended sediment loads during runoff conditions typically were in the spring.

The estimated mean annual total phosphorus yield was largest at the Poteau River at Loving, Okla., water-quality station. The estimated mean annual total phosphorus yield was largest during base flow at the Poteau River at Loving, Okla., water-quality station and at both of the Poteau River water-quality stations during runoff conditions. The estimated mean annual total nitrogen yields were largest at the Poteau River water-quality stations. Estimated mean annual total nitrogen yields were largest during base-flow and runoff conditions at the Poteau River at Loving, Okla., water-quality station. The estimated mean annual suspended sediment yield was largest at the Poteau River near Heavener, Okla., water-quality station during base-flow and runoff conditions.

Flow-weighted mean concentrations indicated that total phosphorus inputs from the Poteau River Basin in the Wister Lake Basin were larger than from the Fourche Maline Basin. Flow-weighted mean concentrations of total nitrogen did not vary spatially in a consistent manner.

The Poteau River and the Fourche Maline contributed estimated annual total phosphorus loads of 137 to 278 tons per year (tons/yr) to Wister Lake. Between 89 and 95 percent of the annual total phosphorus loads were transported to Wister Lake during runoff conditions. The Poteau River and the Fourche Maline contributed estimated annual total nitrogen loads of 657 to 1,294 tons/yr, with 86 to 94 percent of the annual total nitrogen loads being transported to Wister Lake during runoff conditions. The Poteau River and the Fourche Maline contributed estimated annual total suspended sediment loads of 110,919 to 234,637 tons/yr, with 94 to 99 percent of the annual suspended sediment loads being transported to Wister Lake during runoff conditions. Most of the total phosphorus and suspended sediment were delivered to Wister Lake during runoff conditions in the spring. The majority of the total nitrogen was delivered to Wister Lake during runoff conditions in winter.