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Load estimation and trend analysis for nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended sediment in the Eucha-Spavinaw drainage area, northeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas, 2011–18

December 6, 2021

Lake Eucha is a source of water for public supply and recreation for the residents of Tulsa and other municipalities in northeastern Oklahoma. Beaty Creek and Spavinaw Creek flow into Lake Eucha and drain about 388 square miles of agricultural and forested land in northeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas. Beginning in the 1990s, eutrophication of Lake Eucha characterized by excessive algal blooms resulted in taste and odor problems associated with lake water when it is used for public supply. The predominant sources of phosphorus in the Eucha-Spavinaw drainage area were identified by previous investigators as runoff from fertilized agricultural areas (nonpoint sources) and treated effluent from a wastewater-treatment plant (point source). To further evaluate the transport of nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended sediment in the Eucha-Spavinaw drainage area, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in collaboration with the City of Tulsa, estimated the loads and computed temporal trends of these constituents from water-quality and streamflow data collected at five USGS streamgages in the Beaty Creek and Spavinaw Creek subbasins.

Estimates and comparisons of total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and suspended-sediment loads from the Beaty Creek and Spavinaw Creek subbasins to Lake Eucha during 2011–18 were made by using different types of regression equations. The first type of regression equation is referred to as “daily mean load regression equations” and was developed from water-quality data obtained from periodic water-quality samples and daily mean streamflow data collected at five USGS streamgages. The second type of regression equation is referred to as “instantaneous continuous load regression equations.” In addition to water-quality data obtained from periodic water-quality samples, continuous real-time (every 15 minutes) measurements of physicochemical properties (specific conductance, water temperature, and turbidity), and continuous streamflow data were used to estimate instantaneous continuous loads of total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and suspended sediment at two of the same five streamgages where daily mean loads were estimated. The use of these two types of regression equations was documented by previous investigators who estimated loads of total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and suspended sediment in the study area by using data collected during 2002–10.

The regression equations used to estimate constituent loads that were based on water-quality data obtained from periodic water-quality samples and continuous water-quality and streamflow data (instantaneous continuous load regression equations) better described the temporal variance in constituent loads compared to the regression equations based only on periodic water-quality data and daily mean streamflows (daily mean load regression equations). Estimates computed using instantaneous continuous load regression equations showed that mean annual loads of 1,844,000 pounds of total nitrogen, 150,300 pounds of total phosphorus, and 78,735,000 pounds of suspended sediment were transported into Lake Eucha from the Beaty Creek and Spavinaw Creek subbasins. Most of the estimated mean annual loads from the Beaty Creek and Spavinaw Creek subbasins entered Lake Eucha during runoff conditions, including about 80 percent of total nitrogen, 95 percent of total phosphorus, and 98 percent of suspended sediment.

Daily, annual, and mean annual load estimates varied substantially, depending on streamflow conditions and the independent variables used to develop the regression equations. Daily and annual loads estimated from instantaneous continuous load regression equations that included specific conductance, water temperature, turbidity, and streamflow described the variability in the field data better than did loads estimated from daily mean load regression equations that included streamflow, seasonality, and time. Loads estimated from the instantaneous continuous load regression equations generally were greater than those estimated from the daily mean load regression equations.

Temporal trends in total nitrogen concentrations showed statistically significant (probability value less than or equal to 0.05) downward trends during both base-flow and runoff conditions at all five USGS streamgages except for the streamgage 07191179 Spavinaw Creek near Cherokee City, Ark. Temporal trends in total phosphorus concentrations were not consistent between streamgages over the study period, showing upward and downward trends throughout the Eucha-Spavinaw drainage area. Total phosphorus concentrations during base-flow and runoff conditions showed statistically significant upward trends at USGS streamgages 07191160 Spavinaw Creek near Maysville, Ark., and 07191222 Beaty Creek near Jay, Okla. Total phosphorus concentrations showed a statistically significant downward trend during base-flow conditions at USGS streamgage 071912213 Spavinaw Creek near Colcord, Okla., and in both base-flow and runoff conditions at USGS streamgage 07191179 Spavinaw Creek near Cherokee City, Ark. Temporal trends in suspended-sediment concentrations were not consistent between streamgages over the study period and were similar to temporal trends in total phosphorus concentrations.

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