Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Water quality and phytoplankton communities in Lake Pontchartrain during and after the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening, April to October 2008, in Louisiana, USA

August 25, 2009

The Bonnet Carré Spillway, located 28 miles northwest of New Orleans, was constructed in the early 1930s as part of an integrated flood-control system for the lower Mississippi River system. From 11 April to 8 May 2008, Mississippi River water was diverted through the spillway into the 629-square-mile Lake Pontchartrain, which is hydraulically connected to the Gulf of Mexico. On 8 April, prior to the opening of the spillway, water-quality instruments were deployed and recorded hourly measurements of water temperature, dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, pH, and nitrate. Discrete water-quality and phytoplankton (algae) samples were collected in Lake Pontchartrain from 8 April to 3 October 2008 to assess the water-quality nutrient enrichment effects of the diversion on the lake. The maximum influence of river water in the southern portion of the lake was captured with continuous (hourly) monitoring of nitrate concentrations, and field measurements such as of specific conductance during the critical period in late April to early May. By late May, the deployed instruments had recorded the arrival, peak, and decline of selected constituents associated with the freshwater influx from the Mississippi River/Bonnet Carré Spillway diversion. The continuous monitoring data showed the short-term interactions of high-nitrate, low-specific conductance river water and low-nitrate, high-specific conductance lake water. The phytoplankton community composition, as an indicator of water quality, illustrated an extended response from the river water evident even after the continuous and discrete samples indicated that the lake had returned to pre-diversion conditions. The initial phytoplankton community response to nutrient increases was related to accumulations of diatoms. During periods of low nutrient concentrations, accumulations of blue-greens occurred by July and August. As blue-green algae cell densities and biovolumes increased in the summer, so did the species richness of blue-green algae, particularly the harmful algae bloom taxa. Cell densities and biovolume of the phytoplankton lake indicator taxa Skeletonema costatum, Anabaena sp., and Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii were highest and dominated the diatom and blue-green algae communities during the period of most river water influence on the lake and immediately following the freshwater inflows. The dominance and recession of these indictor taxa reflect the dramatic changes that occurred in the phytoplankton community in response to an increase in nutrient-rich freshwater from the diversion into the lake, and not normal seasonal phytoplankton compositional differences. Water-quality data indicated a gradual reversion to pre-diversion lake conditions by June to July, but shifts in the phytoplankton composition were still evident through August 2008. Observations from this study were similar to results from previous studies of Mississippi River/Bonnet Carré Spillway diversion opening in 1997.

Publication Year 2009
Title Water quality and phytoplankton communities in Lake Pontchartrain during and after the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening, April to October 2008, in Louisiana, USA
DOI 10.1007/s00367-009-0157-3
Authors Scott V. Mize, Dennis K. Demcheck
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geo-Marine Letters
Index ID 70155513
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Louisiana Water Science Center