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Water-quality and biological conditions in the Lower Boise River, Ada and Canyon Counties, Idaho, 1994-2002

November 1, 2004

The water quality and biotic integrity of the lower Boise River between Lucky Peak Dam and the river's mouth near Parma, Idaho, have been affected by agricultural land and water use, wastewater treatment facility discharge, urbanization, reservoir operations, and river channel alteration. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and cooperators have studied water-quality and biological aspects of the lower Boise River in the past to address water-quality concerns and issues brought forth by the Clean Water Act of 1977. Past and present issues include preservation of beneficial uses of the river for fisheries, recreation, and irrigation; and maintenance of high-quality water for domestic and agricultural uses. Evaluation of the data collected from 1994 to 2002 by the USGS revealed increases in constituent concentrations in the lower Boise in a downstream direction. Median suspended sediment concentrations from Diversion Dam (downstream from Lucky Peak Dam) to Parma increased more than 11 times, nitrogen concentrations increased more than 8 times, phosphorus concentrations increased more than 7 times, and fecal coliform concentrations increased more than 400 times. Chlorophyll-a concentrations, used as an indicator of nutrient input and the potential for nuisance algal growth, also increased in a downstream direction; median concentrations were highest at the Middleton and Parma sites. There were no discernible temporal trends in nutrients, sediment, or bacteria concentrations over the 8-year study.

The State of Idaho?s temperature standards to protect coldwater biota and salmonid spawning were exceeded most frequently at Middleton and Parma. Suspended sediment concentrations exceeded criteria proposed by Idaho Department of Environmental Quality most frequently at Parma and at all but three tributaries. Total nitrogen concentrations at Glenwood, Middleton, and Parma exceeded national background levels; median flow-adjusted total nitrogen concentrations at Middleton and Parma were higher than those in undeveloped basins sampled nationwide by the USGS. Total phosphorus concentrations at Glenwood, Middleton, and Parma also exceeded those in undeveloped basins.

Macroinvertebrate and fish communities were used to evaluate the long-term integration of water-quality contaminants and loss of habitat in the lower Boise. Biological integrity of the macroinvertebrate population was assessed with the attributes (metrics) of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera (EPT) richness and metrics used in the Idaho River Macroinvertebrate Index (RMI): taxa richness; EPT richness; percent dominant taxon; percent Elmidae (riffle beetles); and percent predators. Average EPT was about 10, and RMI scores were frequently below 16, which indicated intermediate or poor water quality. The number of EPT taxa and RMI scores for the lower Boise were half those for least-impacted streams in Idaho. The fine sediment bioassessment index (FSBI) was used to evaluate macroinvertebrate sediment tolerance. The FSBI scores were lower than those for a site upstream in the Boise River Basin near Twin Springs, a site not impacted by urbanization and agriculture, which indicated that the lower Boise macroinvertebrate population may be impacted by fine sediment. Macroinvertebrate functional feeding groups and percent tolerant species, mainly at Middleton and Parma, were typical of those in areas of degraded water quality and habitat.

The biological integrity of the fish population was evaluated using the Idaho River Fish Index (RFI), which consists of the 10 metrics: number of coldwater native species, percent sculpin, percent coldwater species, percent sensitive native individuals, percent tolerant individuals, number of nonindigenous species, number of coldwater fish captured per minute of electrofishing, percent of fish with deformities (eroded fins, lesions, or tumors), number of trout age classes, and percent carp. RFI scores for lower Boise sites indicated a d

Publication Year 2004
Title Water-quality and biological conditions in the Lower Boise River, Ada and Canyon Counties, Idaho, 1994-2002
DOI 10.3133/sir20045128
Authors Dorene E. MacCoy
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2004-5128
Index ID sir20045128
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse