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Rick Dinicola,
Associate Director, WA Water Science Center,
934 Broadway,
Suite 300
Tacoma, WA 98402

(253) 552-1603
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White River Basin and Lake Tapps Water Quality

Project Summaries

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9722-E7G - Quality of water in the White River and Lake Tapps - Completed FY2011

Lake Tapps
Lake Tapps--photograph by Ryan Burge, Bonney Lake, WA

Problem - The White River drains from glaciers on Mount Rainier, flows to the confluence of the Puyallup River, and subsequently empties into Commencement Bay (Fig. 1). Lake Tapps is a reservoir created from several smaller lakes when some of the White River flow was diverted to the southwest by Puget Sound Energy in 1911 for the generation of electrical power. Water diverted from the White River to maintain water levels in Lake Tapps impacts flows and fish resources in the White River. The White River diversion reach extends from the point of diversion to where discharge from the Puget Sound Energy powerhouse re-enters the mainstem, and has segments that are listed on the Washington State 2008 303(d) list for pH, temperature, and fecal coliform. The White River near the mouth at RM 0.4 is on the 303(d) list for dissolved oxygen. The Total Maximum Daily Loads process has begun for pH and fecal coliform impairments in the White River. The National Marine Fisheries Services listed Puget Sound Chinook as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. The listing identified White River Spring Chinook stock as the only natural origin Spring Chinook stock remaining in south Puget Sound. The White River Hatchery was included in the listing as being essential for recovery of this stock. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also listed Coastal-Puget Sound bull trout and steelhead as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999 and 2007, respectively.

In 2004, power generation ceased and the Cascade Water Alliance took over the operation of the White River diversion and water levels of Lake Tapps. These changes in organizational structure and water management resulted in an awareness of the need to collect baseline water-quality information from the river and the lake under new operational procedures and flow regimes.

Objectives - The Cascade Water Alliance and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will develop and implement a cooperative monitoring program to collect water-quality information at select sites on the White River, Lake Tapps reservoir, and the major inflow and outflow of the reservoir to assess water quality under the new flow regime in the White River and to establish a baseline for evaluation of future trends.

Relevance and Benefits - This study will address the first long-term goal of the USGS 2007-2017 Strategic Science Directions, to monitor and report on the state of the Nation's terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems, and to study the causes and consequences of ecological change. The study serves a local need to develop a better understanding of the relation between sources, processes, and transport nutrients and other constituents of environmental interest. This is the first step in addressing one of the major goals of the USGS Washington Water Science Center, which is to conduct basin-wide assessments of water quality in Washington streams.

Approach - Physical water-quality properties will be monitored at three sites to assess trends during summer, fall and early winter months. Discrete water-quality samples will be collected from the major inflow and outflow of Lake Tapps; and discrete samples will be collected from different depths at up to nine locations on Lake Tapps.

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