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Water Quality

State of Water Quality of Kettle River at Gilpin (1980-1994)

Canada - British Columbia Water Quality Monitoring Agreement

Water Quality Section
Water Management Branch
Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks

Monitoring and Systems Branch
Environment Canada
Pacific and Yukon Region

February, 1996


SUMMARY

This report assesses the long-term water quality trends in the Kettle River, a trans-boundary river which flows from south central B.C. into Washington State first crossing the international border at the town of Midway, B.C. and then re-enters B.C. at Carson upstream from Gilpin. Environment Canada has monitored the Kettle River at Gilpin station since 1980 collecting 26 samples per year. Three other related monitoring stations within the B.C. portion of this watershed are the Kettle River at Midway, Boundary Creek at Midway, and the Kettle River at Carson sites. The Kettle River at Midway station is located near the town of Midway, B.C. and the international boundary. Boundary Creek, a major tributary from the north, joins the Kettle River a short distance downstream from Midway, B.C. and is also very near the boundary between Canada and the U.S. The Kettle River at Carson station is located downstream of Midway at the point where the Kettle River crosses back into B.C. The Kettle River at Gilpin station, the most easterly of the four stations, is located downstream of the Carson site but just upstream of where the Kettle River returns to the U.S.

Known errors were removed and the plotted data were compared to B.C. Environment's Approved and Working Criteria for Water Quality. Of special interest are water quality levels and trends that are deemed deleterious to sensitive water uses including drinking water, aquatic life, fish and wildlife, recreation, irrigation and livestock watering.

The main conclusions of this assessment are as follows:

The main recommendation is:

Monitoring should be suspended at this station.


AUTHORS

T.N. Webber, B.Sc., RPBio, Water Quality Branch, Environmental Protection Department, B.C. Environment, Victoria, B.C.

L.W. Pommen, MSc, PEng. Water Quality Branch, Environmental Protection Department, B.C. Environment, Victoria, B.C.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (Reviewers)

Collection of the water samples for this site was carried out by local sample collectors hired under the Canada-British Columbia Water Quality Monitoring Agreement. Preliminary drafts of this document were distributed to representatives of the Environmental Protection Department and Environment Canada for their consideration and suggestions. The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions and extend their appreciation to the following people: Dr. Jim Bryan, Environmental Assessment Section Head, Penticton, B.C.; Dr. Malcolm Clark, Senior Science Officer, EPD, Victoria, B.C.; R. Regnier (student), Monitoring Systems Branch, Environment Canada, Vancouver, B.C. and Andrea Ryan, Environment Canada, Vancouver, B.C.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Summary
1. Introduction
2. Quality Assurance
3. State of the Water Quality

Conclusions - State of Water Quality

4. Recommendations for Water Quality Management

4.1 Remediation
4.2 Monitoring

References


LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 1 Map of the Kettle River Basin
Figure 2 Flow
Figure 3 Total Alkalinity
Figure 4 Total Aluminum
Figure 5 Total Arsenic
Figure 6 Total Barium
Figure 7 Total Beryllium
Figure 8 Total Cadmium
Figure 9 Calcium
Figure 10 Dissolved Chloride
Figure 11 Total Chromium
Figure 12 Total Cobalt
Figure 13 Apparent Colour
Figure 14 Specific Conductivity
Figure 15 Total Copper
Figure 16 Total Cyanide
Figure 17 Cyanide (Weak-acid dissociable)
Figure 18 Dissolved Fluoride
Figure 19 Hardness
Figure 20 Total Iron
Figure 21 Total Lead
Figure 22 Total Lithium
Figure 23 Magnesium
Figure 24 Total Manganese
Figure 25 Total Molybdenum
Figure 26 Total Nickel
Figure 27 Nitrogen (Nitrate/Nitrite)
Figure 28 Total Dissolved Nitrogen
Figure 29 pH
Figure 30 Total Phosphorus
Figure 31 Potassium
Figure 32 Filterable Residue
Figure 33 Fixed Filterable Residue
Figure 34 Non-Filterable Residue
Figure 35 Fixed Non-Filterable Residue
Figure 36 Total Selenium
Figure 37 Silica
Figure 38 Sodium
Figure 39 Total Strontium
Figure 40 Dissolved Sulphate
Figure 41 Air Temperature
Figure 42 Water Temperature
Figure 43 Turbidity
Figure 44 Total Vanadium
Figure 45 Total Zinc


1. Introduction

The Kettle River at Gilpin is located downstream and east of Grand Forks, B.C. just north of the B.C. and Washington State boundary (Figure 1). The drainage area of the Kettle River at Gilpin is 9840 km². The river flow was monitored at the nearest Environment Canada station number BC08NN012 (Kettle River at Laurier), which is downstream of the sampling site. The flow data are plotted in Figure 2.

Environment Canada has monitored the water quality at this station since 1980, and the data are stored on the federal data base, ENVIRODAT, under station number BC08NN0022. This report assesses the 15 years of data from 1980 through 1994. The water quality data are plotted in alphabetical order in Figures 3 to 45.

The purpose of the water quality monitoring has been long-term trend assessment for a trans-boundary river flowing from Canada to the USA. Other related monitoring stations such as the Kettle River at Carson, Kettle River at Midway and the Boundary Creek at Midway sites are all located upstream of this site. The watershed upstream from Gilpin is relatively pristine, with a small overall population concentrated mainly at Grand Forks, B.C., and no environmentally significant industrial impacts other than forestry and some agriculture. Table 9-3 of the 1977 Kootenay Air and Water Quality Study Report summarizes water licenses on the Kettle River and Boundary Creek.


2. Quality Assurance

The water quality plots were reviewed, and values that were known to be in error or questionable were removed. The total mercury plot has been removed as it showed many detectable values which were probably errors due to false positives near the minimum detectable limits (MDLs) and artificial contamination due to the sample collection and laboratory measurement method used. Natural mercury levels in pristine areas are typically <1-2 ng/L and are 5-10 ng/L in grossly mercury-polluted waters (Pommen, 1994). These levels are at or below the lowest MDL used for mercury. Mercury monitoring in ambient water was terminated in 1994. Mercury in resident fish tissue should be monitored if there are any mercury concerns upstream in this watershed.

There were known quality assurance problems due to the gradual failure of the re-usable Teflon liners in the bakelite preservative vial caps. Over time, preservatives would leak and leach out contaminates from the bakelite vial caps and contaminate many of the 1986 to 1991 samples. This contamination problem was known to affect federal water quality data province-wide. The primary variables affected were cadmium, chromium, copper, cyanide, lead, mercury, and zinc during this sampling period. There were known problems due to pH methodology at the Environment Canada Laboratory in Vancouver from the about the beginning of 1986 to the end of 1988.


3. State of the Water Quality

The state of the water quality is assessed by comparing the values to B.C. Environment's Approved and Working Criteria for Water Quality (Nagpal, Pommen & Swain, 1995). There are no site-specific water quality objectives for the Kettle River. All comments and observations regarding apparent trends are based solely on the visual examination of the graphically displayed data.

Any levels or trends in water quality that are deleterious to sensitive water uses, including drinking water, aquatic life and wildlife, recreation, irrigation, and livestock watering, are noted. Variables that exhibited no apparent environmental problems have not been discussed although all of these variables have been plotted and included in this report.

Flow (Figure 2) from the Kettle River at Laurier site appeared stable through early to mid eighties with a slight downward trend after the maximum spring peak flow recorded during the freshet of 1983. The lowest peak spring freshet flow over the 1979 to 1993 period was reported in the spring of 1992.

Total alkalinity (Figure 3) and calcium (Figure 9) show that the river at this location has a low sensitivity to acid inputs (well-buffered), except during the majority of spring freshets when a moderate sensitivity occurs.

Total aluminum (Figure 4) had very high peak values during 2 of the 5 spring freshets monitored that were well above drinking water and aquatic life criteria for dissolved aluminum. However, the peak total aluminum was caused by the higher suspended sediment (see residue, non-filterable and turbidity), during freshet, and thus is probably not of concern because dissolved aluminum would be lower. Dissolved aluminum should be monitored for direct comparison to the criteria, if there is any concern about aluminum in the future.

Total cadmium (Figure 8) had MDLs that were 10-100 times above the aquatic life criteria and levels that are typical in pristine waters. We believe that the detectable values are nothing more than artificial contamination and false positives close to the MDLs. There are concerns about the input of cadmium from the slag heaps downstream of Midway, B.C. Any future cadmium monitoring should use an MDL of 1 ng/L or lower.

Total chromium (Figure 11) exceeded the aquatic life criterion at 0.002 mg/L (for phyto and zoo-plankton) in mid-1990 and again in mid-1991 and to a lesser extent, again in 1992 and 1993. These high values were probably due to artificial contamination from preservative vial lids (pre-1991), increased flow and suspended sediment during spring freshet (1991 and 1993), and through-ice sampling contamination (1992). Since mid-1993, total chromium values have remained well below the 0.002 mg/L criterion level.

Apparent colour (Figure 13) exceeded the true colour criteria for drinking water and recreation regularly during spring freshet, probably due to the higher turbidity at this time. True colour would have been lower because the turbidity is removed before this measurement. True colour or total absorbance colour should be measured if there are colour concerns in the future as relevant and current guidelines are geared towards true colour and TAC.

Total copper (Figure 15) results showed widespread artificial contamination due to the failure of preservative vials cap liners during 1986-91. Data assessment after early 1991 when the vials were changed reveals values below the aquatic life criteria of 0.002 to 0.005 mg/L for the river water hardness range to 120 mg/L.

Cyanide (Total & Weak-acid dissociable) (Figures 16 & 17) had widespread contamination of CN up to about 1991 related to the failure of the preservative vial cap liners (Pommen and Ryan, 1992). Cyanide did not exceed the criteria after 1991, although on two occasions, values near the average aquatic life criterion were measured. We are not aware of confirmed cyanide contamination from such sources as placer gold mining affecting either the U.S. or Canadian portion of the Kettle River watershed.

Fluoride (Figure 18) frequently exceeded the tentative aquatic life criteria due to the natural geologic conditions in the watershed. We are not aware of any problems with fish in the Kettle River due to elevated fluoride levels and expect that the fish populations are acclimated and adapted to the naturally higher levels of fluoride. At no time did any values approach the drinking water criterion of 1.0 mg/L.

Hardness (Figure 19) showed that the water was soft, usually below and occasionally slightly above the optimum range for drinking water, but still very acceptable.

Total iron (Figure 20) was frequently above the criterion for drinking water (aesthetics) and aquatic life during spring freshet when flow and suspended sediment were higher. The iron is probably due to the iron content of the suspended sediment and thus of no concern. Drinking water use during freshet would require turbidity removal, which would likely reduce iron below the criterion.

Total lead (Figure 21) exceeded the aquatic life criterion of 0.004 mg/L only twice throughout the 15-year sampling period and this was prior to 1991 when there was probable artificial contamination due to the failure of the preservative vial cap liners. All criteria have been met since early 1990 with a gradual improvement (i.e., downward trend) approaching 1995. This downward trend is associated with a decrease in the detection limits and the use of cleaner methods.

Total manganese (Figure 24) regularly exceeded the aesthetic drinking water criterion of 0.05 mg/L during spring freshet when suspended sediments were naturally elevated. This is not of concern since this was due to the manganese content of the suspended sediment, which would normally be removed by drinking water treatment during turbidity removal. No obvious trends into 1995 were observed.

Nitrogen, total dissolved (Figure 28) and nitrate/nitrite (Figure 27) values were well below criteria. There appears to be ample nitrogen available for algal growth except during the summer months.

pH (Figure 29) met all criteria. The lower pH values in 1986-89 were due to a loss of control in pH measurement in the laboratory. The data has been flagged as questionable and unreliable.

Total phosphorus (Figure 30) showed peak values during spring freshet when suspended sediments were naturally elevated. There are no criteria for phosphorus in B.C. rivers.

Non-filterable residue (NFR) (i.e., suspended solids or sediment) (Figure 34) and turbidity (Figure 43) both show peaks during spring freshet when suspended sediments were naturally elevated. NFR was below the general fisheries criterion of 25 mg/L (Newcombe, 1986), except during freshet. The turbidity criterion for swimming was always met, but the raw drinking water criterion at 1 NTU for water without turbidity removal was usually exceeded especially during freshet. Turbidity, on the other hand, has demonstrated a slight increasing trend from the mid-80's into mid 1993. Turbidity responds similarly to NFR but is more sensitive (lower MDL & fewer non-detects), cheaper, has better criteria and thus we recommend that it be used as a surrogate for NFR in any future monitoring.

Fixed filterable and fixed non-filterable residue (Figures 33 and 35) have no criteria, and are generally uninterpretable, with little value for water quality assessment. We recommend that they be replaced with more relevant and specific measures of organic or inorganic constituents.

Filterable residue (FR) (dissolved solids) (Figure 32) values were well below criteria. Specific conductivity is a more precise and cheaper variable to monitor and it has a reasonably constant relationship to filterable residue. We recommend that conductivity be used as a surrogate for FR in future monitoring.

Silicon as Si (Figure 37) showed a stable trend throughout the 15 year sampling period. The very low value in early 1994 is probably a blank. This plot has been corrected to reflect the 1990 method change, which changed the mode of expression from SiO2 to Si, thus reducing the values by a factor of 2 (i.e., SiO2 = 28 + (16)2 = 60, and Si = 28; 60/28 = 2.14). A minor step change in level is apparent when the method changed. There are no criteria for silica in ambient fresh waters.

Water temperature (Figure 42) met the drinking water criterion (aesthetics) except during most summers, when it was warm enough for water-contact recreation such as swimming, but somewhat less appealing as drinking water.

Total zinc (Figure 45) occasionally exceeded aquatic life criteria (for fish, invertebrates and algae) prior to 1988, in part due to the preservative vial cap liner failures experienced in the late 1980s, and possibly due to elevated suspended sediment during spring freshet. Dissolved zinc is largely bio-available and thus of concern, whereas particulate zinc is not. The lower aquatic (algae) criterion has been exceeded only once since mid 1987. We are observing a downward trend in zinc values since the early 1990's, which is consistent with the low zinc values in this relatively pristine (for zinc sources) watershed, due to declining detection limits and the use of cleaner methods.

Other variables were all well below all water quality criteria for the sensitive water uses and showed no environmentally significant trends.

Conclusions - State of Water Quality

Comparison to other Kettle River watershed water quality reports:

Please refer to the three Water Quality Branch Kettle River basin companion reports; Kettle River at Midway, Kettle River at Carson and Boundary Creek at Midway (Webber and Pommen, 1996) for additional data assessment conclusions and recommendations.


4. Recommendations for Water Quality Management

4.1 Remediation

4.2 Monitoring

Some general monitoring recommendations for this station and other stations are:


Figure 1 Map of the Kettle River Basin


Figure 2 Flow


Figure 3 Total Alkalinity


Figure 4 Total Aluminum


Figure 5 Total Arsenic


Figure 6 Total Barium


Figure 7 Total Beryllium


Figure 8 Total Cadmium


Figure 9 Calcium


Figure 10 Dissolved Chloride


Figure 11 Total Chromium


Figure 12 Total Cobalt


Figure 13 Apparent Colour


Figure 14 Specific Conductivity


Figure 15 Total Copper


Figure 16 Total Cyanide


Figure 17 Cyanide (Weak-acid dissociable)


Figure 18 Dissolved Fluoride


Figure 19 Hardness


Figure 20 Total Iron


Figure 21 Total Lead


Figure 22 Total Lithium


Figure 23 Magnesium


Figure 24 Total Manganese


Figure 25 Total Molybdenum


Figure 26 Total Nickel


Figure 27 Nitrogen (Nitrate/Nitrite)


Figure 28 Total Dissolved Nitrogen


Figure 29 pH


Figure 30 Total Phosphorus


Figure 31 Potassium


Figure 32 Filterable Residue


Figure 33 Fixed Filterable Residue


Figure 34 Non-Filterable Residue


Figure 35 Fixed Non-Filterable Residue


Figure 36 Total Selenium


Figure 37 Silica


Figure 38 Sodium


Figure 39 Total Strontium


Figure 40 Dissolved Sulphate


Figure 41 Air Temperature


Figure 42 Water Temperature


Figure 43 Turbidity


Figure 44 Total Vanadium


Figure 45 Total Zinc


REFERENCES

Nagpal, N.K., L.W. Pommen, & L. Swain, 1995. Approved and Working Criteria for Water Quality. Water Quality Branch, Environmental Protection Department, Victoria, B.C.

Pommen, L.W., 1994. Mercury Monitoring Issues (Mark II). Water Quality Branch, Environmental Protection Department, Victoria, B.C.

Newcombe, C.P., 1986. Fisheries and the Problem of Turbidity and Inert Sediment in Water. A Synthesis for Environmental Impact Assessment. Environmental Impact Unit. Environmental Services Section. Waste Management Branch. Ministry of Environment. Victoria, B.C. (Canada).

Water Resources Service, Water Investigations Branch, 1976. Kootenay Air and Water Quality Study Phase I Water Quality in Region 9, The Kettle River Basin. Department of Environment, Victoria, B.C.

Rocchini, R.J., 1981. Kootenay Air and Water Quality Study, Phase II. APD Bulletin 20. Aquatic Studies Branch, Ministry of Environment, Victoria, B.C.

Webber, T.N. and L.W. Pommen, 1996. State of Water Quality of the Kettle River at Midway. Water Quality Branch, Environmental Protection Department, Victoria, B.C.

Webber, T.N. and L.W. Pommen, 1996. State of Water Quality of the Kettle River at Carson. Water Quality Branch, Environmental Protection Department, Victoria, B.C.

Webber, T.N. and L.W. Pommen, 1996. State of Water Quality of the Boundary Creek at Midway. Water Quality Branch, Environmental Protection Department, Victoria, B.C.


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