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Processes Controlling Dissolved Oxygen and pH in the Upper Willamette River Basin, Oregon, 1994

By Ted R. Pogue and Chauncey W. Anderson

USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4205, 71 p., 13 tables, 12 figs.

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In July and August of 1994, the U. S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) collected data to document the spatial extent and diel variability of dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations and pH levels in selected reaches of streams in the upper Willamette River Basin. These data were also collected to identify primary factors that control DO concentrations downstream from major point sources as well as to provide ODEQ with data to refine calibration of their steady-state DO and nutrient models for the upper Willamette River Basin.

All of the reaches studied had diel variations in DO and pH. The magnitude of the diel variations in DO ranged from 0.2 to 3.9 milligrams per liter (7 to 50 percent- saturation units based on ambient water temperature and barometric pressure) and in pH from 0.3 to 1.4 units. However, of the reaches studied, only the Coast Fork Willamette River from river mile (RM) 21.7 to 12.5 and the Willamette River from RM 151 to 141.6 had field measured violations of State standards for DO and pH.

DO concentration and pH in water depend on many factors. Data were collected to examine several major factors, including BOD (biochemical oxygen demand), carbonaceous BOD, nitrogenous BOD, and measures of photosynthetic activity. Of the four study reaches, only a short stretch of the Coast Fork Willamette River has potential for important levels of oxygen consumption from BOD or nitrification. Additionally, water-column primary-productivity measurements indicated that respiration and photosynthesis by free-floating algae did not explain the observed diel variations in DO in the study reaches.

Results from a simple mathematical model incorporating measures of community respiration and net primary productivities indicated that periphyton are capable of producing a diel variation of the order of magnitude observed during the August study period. In the Willamette River near Peoria, the combined periphyton DO consumption and production estimate at RM 151 (2.4 mg/L) and RM 144.6 (1.7 mg/L) would account for 90 and 63 percent, respectively, of the observed diel fluctuation. The estimates for the Corvallis reach at RM 132.6 (0.4 mg/L) and RM 130.7 (2.9 mg/L) had a considerably larger range of 36 to 264 percent of DO saturation, respectively. Therefore, because BOD and phytoplankton do not appear to be important contributors to diel DO fluctuations, periphyton are likely the primary contributor to diel fluctuations in the upper Willamette River Basin during July and August.

Report availability:

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A printed version of the full report is available free (while supplies last) from:

U.S. Geological Survey, 10615 S.E. Cherry Blossom Drive, Portland, OR 97216 (ph: 503-251-3201, e-mail

and (as a photocopy) from:

U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services, Box 25286, Denver, CO 80225 (ph: 1-888-ASK-USGS, e-mail

Note: When ordering the report, please supply the report title and number, your name, and your mailing address. Thank you.

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