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Keywords:

  • water quality;
  • springs;
  • ground-water/surface-water relations;
  • nonpoint-source effects;
  • nutrient loading;
  • Snake River;
  • south-central Idaho

ABSTRACT: The 150-kilometer middle reach of the Snake River (middle Snake) in south-central Idaho receives large quantities of water from springs discharging along the north side of the river from the regional Snake River Plain aquifer. Water-quality samples collected from nine north-side springs in April 1994 indicated that springs in the upstream part of the reach had larger concentrations of dissolved solids, dissolved nitrate, total nitrogen, tritium, and heavy isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen than to springs in the downstream part of the reach. Because the spring chemistry varies in the reach, discharge from the springs resulted in a degradation in water quality in some parts of the middle Snake and improvements in water quality in other parts. Depending on the annual discharge in the Snake River, the contribution from the north-side springs represented 33 to 66 percent of the discharge, 32 to 57 percent of the dissolved solids, 26 to 50 percent of the total nitrogen, and 7 to 14 percent of the total phosphorus transported annually from the middle Snake. Synoptic sampling showed that the north-side springs contributed 84 percent of the discharge and 35, 40, and 10 percent of the dissolved solids, total nitrogen, and total phosphorus load, respectively, to the Snake River during the peak of the irrigation season in 1994.