Water-Quality Trend Analysis and Sampling Design for Streams in the Red River of the North Basin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, 1970-2001

The Bureau of Reclamation is considering several alternatives to meet the future municipal, rural, and industrial water-supply needs in the Red River of the North (Red River) Basin, and an environmental impact statement is being prepared to evaluate the potential effects of the various alternatives on the water quality and aquatic health in the basin in relation to the historical variability of streamflow and constituent concentration. Therefore, a water-quality trend analysis was needed to determine the amount of natural water-quality variability that can be expected to occur in the basin, to determine if significant water-quality changes have occurred as a result of human activities, to explore potential causal mechanisms for water-quality changes, and to establish a baseline from which to monitor future water-quality trends. This report presents the results of a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, to analyze historical water-quality trends in two dissolved major ions, dissolved solids, three nutrients, and two dissolved trace metals for nine streamflow-gaging stations in the basin. Annual variability in streamflow in the Red River Basin was high during the trend-analysis period (1970-2001). The annual variability affects constituent concentrations in individual tributaries to the Red River and, in turn, affects constituent concentrations in the main stem of the Red River because of the relative streamflow contribution from the tributaries to the main stem. Therefore, an annual concentration anomaly, which is an estimate of the interannual variability in concentration that can be attributed to long-term variability in streamflow, was used to analyze annual streamflow-related variability in constituent concentrations. The concentration trend is an estimate of the long-term systematic changes in concentration that are unrelated to seasonal or long-term variability in streamflow. Concentrations that have both the seasonal and annual variability removed are called standardized concentrations. Numerous changes that could not be attributed to natural streamflow-related variability occurred in the standardized concentrations during the trend-analysis period. During various times from the late 1970's to the mid-1990's, significant increases occurred in standardized dissolved sulfate, dissolved chloride, and dissolved-solids concentrations for eight of the nine stations for which water-quality trends were analyzed. Significant increases also occurred from the early 1980's to the mid-1990's for standardized dissolved nitrite plus nitrate concentrations for the main-stem stations. The increasing concentrations for the main-stem stations indicate the upward trends may have been caused by human activities along the main stem of the Red River. Significant trends for standardized total ammonia plus organic nitrogen concentrations occurred for most stations. The fitted trends for standardized total phosphorus concentrations for one tributary station increased from the late 1970's to the early 1980's and decreased from the early 1980's to the mid-1990's. Small but insignificant increases occurred for two main-stem stations. No trends were detected for standardized dissolved iron or dissolved manganese concentrations. However, the combination of extreme high-frequency variability, few data, and the number of censored values may have disguised the streamflow-related variability for iron.
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U.S. Geological Survey
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Minnesota Water Research Digital Library
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