The Causes and Effects of Phosphorous Loading in Cascade Reservoir - 1993-94

The Students: Chris Gibbons, Bryan Kimmel, Kevin Payton, and Kenneth Schmitz

The Teacher: Clinton A. Kennedy

Awards: 1994 Seiko Youth Challenge West Region Semi-Finalist
- Causes and Effects of Phosphorous Loading in Cascade Reservoir

Implementing Best Management Practices for Grazing

Summary Page

What ever happened to that poor family that went on there vacation? Soon after they arrived they were force to return back to there home in the city. Weli we don't want to have to turn people back, we want them to be able to stay and enjoy our wonderful reservoir.

To sum up our solution, spending money in the beginning will help us to receive a much healthier and cleaner reservoir in the long run. This amount of money that is needed to change from flood irrigation to sprinkler irrigation is nothing in comparison to what will be spent to try and clean the whole reservoir if it goes anoxic. People of this city and other cities in the watershed are anxious to get the problem solved. The ranchers are even willing to give up a little portion of their land to the Advanced Bi o l ogy cl ass to bu i I d such things as wet lands to clean the water. In the spring, even after all of our reports are done, we plan on building wetlands with the other students in our class to help out the prob I em.

We have taken several trips to collect different kinds of information around the reservoir. Most of the trips we took were cold and windy, but that didn't stop us from venturing out there. The trips were a very educating experience, we were dealt with problems that are of adult magnitude and we had to find solutions ,or the disease. Throughout the testing process, we learned what exactly phosphorous, DO, Nitrates, and Turbidity was. Now when we convene at different environmental meetings, we have an idea of what they are talking about.

Throughout our research process, we also went to visit governor Andrus to discuss the possible solutions of the reservoir. We have talked with several different organizations about this problem and what can be done to correct it. It appears as though everybody in the community wants to get the pollution cleaned up, it is just a matter of money and motivati on.

No matter what the experts say, through out this whole experience, the hardest matter to deal with is the politics. The citizens all want the problem solved, they just want someone else to do it. We as a group and a class still plan on carrying out our research, and project proposals. Our one goal is to have an out come that we can all enjoy, and that is a clean reservoir.

The Causes and Effects of Phosphorous Loading in Cascade Reservoir

A family sets out for their annual vacation, their destination is the same as it has been for the past five years. They have had great luck with the trout fishing every time they go, and Dad loves the outdoors. This dream like-place that they visit every year is slowly being destroyed. Upon arrival, the family that had seen the reservoir through the best of times now can see a mere shell of the majestic waters that this once beautiful reservoir used to be. A sign now reads "No Swimming. Water May Be Harmful To Your Health." The family was outraged; they wanted to be able to go for a late night cruise on the reservoir. That family always looked forward to the bike rides around the reservoir, but the smell and the rot of dead fish and other decomposing matter have taken over the area now. The campgrounds that were once filled with enthusiastic tourists now lie empty except for the few brave souls that can bare the awful stench. Is there any hope for this once thriving reservoir? Will there be any hope to replenish this reservoir to what it used to be? Is there an answer, is there a cure, can science and technology come together to come up with a solution to this problem? Can we fix a problem that man has created but will refuse to acknowledge what he has done?

We students in Cascade's Advanced Biology Class are trying to find a neutral plane that will form a balance between man and the environment that surrounds him. Our group has set out to study the problems of the reservoir and find a possible cure to the disease that has plagued our reservoir for many years.

Cascade Reservoir's polluted water has been building for several years. It has affected the community, the recreation, and the overall environment. Upon exploring this complex problem, we have found many differing opinions from a variety of different sources. We have also found that along with every environmental crisis there are always three major factors to overcome. First, actions should start at a local level. Next, you have to deal with the diverse views of the many political powers. Last, one must find ways to fund the proposed ideas. This process is a somewhat impossible task on many different levels, but it can be accomplished with time, effort, and sacrifices from all the involved parties.
Due to many different research studies, we have come to find out that many people have their own opinion on which polluting factor should be dealt with first. If you take a look at the pie graph labeled graph A, you will notice that agriculture uses the second most land around the reservoir next to forest and wildlife, which is what we have set our goal to mend. In order to solve an environmental problem, you must first figure out what exactly it is that is being put into the water causing it to become polluted. In our studies, we have learned that our reservoir has a surplus of nutrients and phosphorous, which mainly comes from agriculture. The old saying "You can never have too much of a good thing" has been proven to be wrong in this situation. The phosphorous and nutrients load into the reservoir in such vast quantities that the growth of the algae blooms erupt with an enormous speed. Now if you will examine the pie graph labeled figure B, you will notice the different amounts of phosphorous being flushed into the reservoir by numerous contributors. If you will, please, take a look at the highest contributor, you will notice that it is agriculture. Within agriculture, there lies an important species known as the domestic cow; we like to refer to this animal in a group known as cattle. The cattle are not the actual problem to the reservoir. It is the breaking down of the feces that adds to the phosphates to the reservoir.

Our project will focus on this problem, and how we went about testing and researching this issue. For the past several years, most of Idaho has been in a drought. During this drought, there has been little runoff--sometimes none at all--so the phosphorous has been collecting in the soil. In the winter of 1992-93, Cascade received an unusually large amount of snowfall. The spring runoff exceeded what it has been for the past several years. When this occurred, external loading of phosphorous drained into the reservoir.

The summer was cold and wet, but in mid-August the weather warmed up and the sun came out. That is when all of the trouble started. The algae got the sun it needed and a massive algae bloom occurred. With the reservoir now being eutrophic (nutrient rich), the reservoir's oxygen was now being used at a terrific rate. The threat of the reservoir becoming totally anoxic (water depleted of all oxygen) was now ever closer to a reality.
In the fall of 1993, we tested several sites around the lake to find the actual amount of phosphorous that each area maintained. The first site we tested was Gold Fork Creek, in September. Gold Fork is one of the reservoir's main tributaries. The day started out partly cloudy with freezing gusts of winds which made it very difficult to find volunteers to wade into the tributary. Two braves souls took the task of pulling sample water off the hypolimnion (bottom of the body of water) of the tributary?s cold water. After running some site tests for things such as pH, DO (Dissolved Oxygen), and nitrates with various test kits and the calorimeter, we took the sample water and our frozen bodies back to the lab. After returning, we ran such tests as fecal coliform and total phosphate tests with the spectrophotometer, a complicated device that measures the amount of radiant energy that is absorbed by molecules in a solution. It gives us an absorbency and transmittance at a certain wavelength. These were used to form a Lambert-Beers Law Plot, which showed us that absorbency is directly related to concentration. The fecal coliform?s total Q-value was 8.0 and the total phosphate was 9.2 milligrams per liter, which is a very high phosphate content. Because of the different results of the numerous tests we ran, the site form?s water quality index gave our reservoir a medium reading, this is mainly due to the season in which we did our testing.

Our next testing site on the reservoir was the South side, in October, which is where the major problems have occurred with algae blooms. In order to understand why, we must give you the layout of the lake. If you study graph 2 and see where the dam is located, you will notice that the main flow of the water comes in from the north. This means that the small area of the south end rarely gets new water to flush out the old algae-laden waters. Because of this lack of circulation, the algae blooms pile on top of one another. Therefore, the phosphate levels in that area are lower due to the thick green mats of algae that accumulate. We decided that the best place to proceed with the testing was at a place known to us as Carbarton 1, a popular campground right in the heart of the problem. When we arrived, it was a brisk day with a slight wind blowing in from the North, perfect for testing except for the freezing wind chill factor. While we were gathering samples, our teacher, Mr. Kennedy, pointed out the effects of the blue-green algae upon the beaches and their sky blue tint. Its usual odor of rot was in the air and could be smelled a mile away. Nothing new to us, for we had been smelling it for a couple of years now. This year it was more noticeable than in the past. As we completed our tests, we noticed that the DO was a full 13 ppm lower than Gold Fork, running in at a remarkable 1.02 ppm. The total phosphates rang in at 8.7 ppm, lower than before because the algae uses much of the phosphates as food to help it with it?s rapid growth. The nitrates were at 9.8 ppm, much higher than the Gold Fork site because of the massive algae bloom, also. According to the water quality index, the quality of this site bordered between a medium to bad range.
Some subdivisions are trying to control the amount of phosphate that they contribute to the reservoir. The wetlands that we visited was at the Pine Lakes Subdivision. This site was also visited in October. This was probably one of the best days we had for testing; it was a warm and sunny day. The wetland or pond was located about 150 yards from the sore of the reservoir. We tested four different locations on the wetland. The nesting site was a mixture of cat-tails and long mossy grasses. The South site was mainly willows with a few cat-tails. The dam site was an embankment with short grass, and the Gold Fork ditch was your normal irrigation ditch feeding into the wetland. As usual, we ran the same number of tests in the field that we normally run. The results from this site seem to be almost identical to those of the Gold Fork site. The wetland does serve a purpose; that is to filter out nutrients before the water is released into the reservoir. The long term effects of the wetland is unknown because of how young it is. It seems as if it will help to aid in the clean up of the reservoir, and every little bit that people try to do to clean the reservoir will help.

Our final trip for testing took us to the all popular site on the reservoir known as the Cascade Dam. We did this testing in the chilly month of November. In order to do testing at the dam, a group of three students had to paddle a canoe out to the middle of the buoys that fence off the sever undertow of the dam to boaters and swimmers. Once they were out there, they had to get a sample of water and mud from the hypolimnion of the lake. It was a tricky task seeing how the canoe was so narrow and had a tendency to sway from side to side. Back on shore, the remaining students had to get epilimnion (top level) samples for testing. They also had to get a one-meter-deep mesolimnion (middle level) sample of water to test as well. When all of the students were back on shore, they ran all of their tests. The results for the epilimnion layer were: DO - 10 ppm, pH - 6.83 ppm, and total solids - .0022 ppm. The results of the mesolimnion layer were: DO - 7 ppm, pH - 6.8 ppm, total phosphate - .19 mg/liter, nitrates - .08 mg/liter, and turbitity - 10 JTU. Turbidity is the cloudiness of the water and is made up of eroded soils and microscopic plankton. The results for the hypolimnion layer were: DO - 17 ppm, pH - 6.75 ppm, total phosphate - .58 mg/liter, nitrates - .02 mg/liter, and turbitity - 3+? JTU. As you can see, the results for total phosphates were less than the previously tested sites but more, we thought, due to the season of the year because of the phosphates had more time to accumulate. The rating for the water quality for the dam turned out to be medium. You may think, due to our water quality index results, that our lake is really not in that bad of shape since its is receiving a medium grade, but there are many lakes much worse than ours around the country--water quality that bad is what we are trying to avoid. The time to act is now because researchers believe that our reservoir may become totally anoxic by next year.

Now that we had tested all our sites, we felt that it was time to take our proposed solutions to the top; it was time to see the governor. Governor Cecil Andrus invited us to talk with him about the research that we have done on the reservoir. We set a date for December 13, and think with hope that something might finally be done about the reservoir. We left Cascade around 8:00 A.M. and arrived at the capital around 10:00 A.M. ( The state house was amazing, and since our meeting was at 11:00 A.M., we took it upon ourselves to look around and see what the state house looks like since it was most of our class?s first time being there.) Finally, we had our time to visit with the governor and a few representatives from the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality). One of the persons representing them was Joy L. Palmer, Regional Administrator for the DEQ. Once inside the governor's office, it was time to get down to business. Representatives from two local news stations and the Idaho Statesman (the state?s newspaper) were interested in what we had to say in our 45 minutes with Governor Andrus. Governor Andrus himself seemed rather pleased with the results that we came up with from the reservoir studies. After a few interviews with the media and a lot of handshakes, we began our journey back to the little town of Cascade. That night, KTVB (Channel 7) broadcast our interview with the governor. It seemed that everyone must have gotten informed on the water quality problem, but now we had to find a way to fix it.

No sooner had the news spread then we were asked to attend a city council meeting with the mayor of Cascade to discuss what had been said at the capital. Upon arriving at the meeting, we noticed a feeling of eagerness to get something done. It seemed as if the council had hurried up the other matters of discussion in order to hear about our talk with Governor Andrus. When the discussion was finally brought about, you could tell that everybody in the room was listening with rapt attention. The council and the mayor seemed pleased by the outcome of the meeting, and they seemed ready to meet any challenges they could help solve.

There are many people that work with our reservoir. One group that does extensive work on the lake is the Soil Conservation Service. One man that works for this group is Tom Lance, Soil Conservation Commission Water Quality Specialist. Mr. Lance was very cooperative and agreed to come and talk to the class. We discussed many different scenarios with our reservoir like phosphorus loading and large amounts of nutrients. He told us about how phosphorous acts under different conditions. If you look at the graph 3, you will notice that phosphorus travels much farther in wet conditions compared to dry conditions. He also said that if cattle graze earlier in the season and get taken off the field earlier it will enable your pastures to grow and produce more feed. If you again look at graph 3, you will notice that weather conditions have a very definite impact on how the feces will act, or move about. During the wet conditions, there is runoff, whereas during the dry conditions the runoff acts in just the opposite manner. If you will notice the arrows going down, that means that there is phosphorous leaching into the ground. Although there is phosphorous leaching, it is not as extensive as the nitrates. Since phosphorous has a negative charge, it attracts all of the positively charged particles from the ground, which makes it very active. The major amount of phosphorous being put into the reservoir comes from the surface runoff, so if there was a way to minimize the runoff it would contribute to the well being of the reservoir tremendously. This is where our proposition comes in.
The idea of our project is to interchange flood irrigation with sprinkler irrigation. With flood irrigating, you have an excess amount of water being put on to the field that is not optimum for plant growth. This pulls phosphate not only out of the land, but out of the livestock excretions. This process breaks down the feces, which makes the phosphorous more mobile. Irrigating in this way is not only careless, but it is very wasteful. If you were to switch to sprinkler irrigation, it would leave more water in the streams. If it was possible to have 40% of water left in the stream, a biota would be able to set itself up. Biotas, thousands of micro-invertebrates and other such bacteria that use the phosphorous before it can reach the lake, act as filters for the reservoir. This would have a substantial impact on the reservoir. However, biotas cannot form if the water level fluctuates too much. Sprinkler irrigation, on the other hand, leaves enough water in the streams throughout the whole irrigation season for biotas to grow and develop at a good pace. All of the tributaries that contribute to the reservoir have a little biota if any at all. Sprinklers leave more water in the streams so that biotas can develop.

Sprinklers allow the different types of pasture grasses to grow more rapidly and live a little longer. This is important for the reservoir and the farmer. With longer grass, there is something there to act as a net for the feces runoff. The grass holds it back and allows it to settle and break down into the soil where it will be trapped and used as nutrient-rich fertilizer for the grass. Also, with taller, healthier grass, the cattle in the fields do not have to be moved from the old pasture to a newer, healthier one. The farmer or rancher will have more land to do what he wants with.

Many ranchers and farmers in the area believe that it is too expensive to make the switch, but in the long run we feel that it will profit them. When checking prices for all of the possibilities that we looked into, we noticed that it costs about the same to get the land leveled for flood irrigating. It only costs about 5000 to 7850 dollars to sprinkler irrigate a 35 acre field, this includes the handlines and pump. The way the ranchers do it now, they have to spend money annually for all of the water rights, with sprinklers they will only use what they need. Less money spent on the water rights and taller, greener grass will give the rancher the option to support more cattle which will pull in even more income.

Our group was curious about exactly how much phosphate was actually given off from the manure, so we derived a few tests that would help us determine just that. In the first experiment, we determined that we needed to dissolve one gram of cow feces into 100 ml of water and run our phosphorous test on the raw sample to get an approximate reading of total phosphates. Our results were astounding; there was an amazing 44 ppm of phosphate in a mere 1 gram of waste. In our second trial, we decided to run the ?manure water? through approximately 100 cubic inches of dirt to see how much of the phosphate would get trapped in the dirt without any biota, such as plant roots, that may contain it. Of the 44 ppm of phosphate that the contaminated water held, 42 ppm came through into the jar placed at the bottom of the cylinder containing the dirt. This means that without plant life, only 2 ppm of phosphate was actually trapped in the dirt. This shows us the importance of a good biota in a watershed.

Now that we had covered the research and the money, or funding process, we had to deal with the political stress of the entire situation. In al cases, no matter what it is, politics is always the hardest to deal with. We found out how difficult it was to get the different parties involved to come to a conclusion on what should be done to start the clean up of the reservoir and the surrounding watershed. In order to get the ball rolling, and answer a few questions that people may have, the DEQ set up a community meeting that was open to the public. The number of concerned citizens living around the reservoir that showed up at the meeting was proof of the need for action. When our Advanced Biology class decided to attend, we found out first hand how people want to point fingers in the other direction and blame anyone but themselves. There tended to be several arguments about the community leading the clean up actions and leaving the government out, but as Mr. Kennedy had previously stated, "Nobody wants to be told by the government what they have to do to get things done, but then again nobody wants to give up what they have to achieve a cleaner reservoir." Which is the point that Dewey Worth, the DEQ representative at the meeting, was trying to get across to the people. He began to just state different proposed solutions and all he would get for feedback is "Well why do we have to give up this?" or It's not our fault that we have a dirty lake.? The meeting was getting nowhere because not one person would look at a different view. People wanted results but were willing to give only time and effort and not the physical things necessary to eliminate the phosphate loading. The sense of frustration was building up all throughout the meeting, and people began to give up and leave. They started demanding government assistance and money; now telling them that it was their reservoir and that they had to deal with its problems. As you can see, over the course of one night, people went from one frame of mind to another. After three hours of heated arguments, nothing was really accomplished, and fingers were still being pointed.
Through research, we have learned that it is easier for ourselves as students to speak directly with the ranchers to discuss methods of improvement. The ranchers seem more eager to sacrifice some of their land to student use to help the reservoir and maybe their own property. If the government proposed something, ranchers would tell them to go bug someone else. However, when we, the Cascade Advanced Biology Class, propose something, they seem willing to help out. One of the groups from our class had no trouble borrowing land from three ranchers to build wetlands. The ranchers do not want to be pushed by the government, and they?re far more trusting with the students in our town. Why do the people of the United States feel that the government does not know what they are doing even though they have the leading experts in the field, or is it that they just can?t say no to an innocent-faced student?

In the spring, the Bureau of Reclamation plans to build about three wetlands, and they have asked that the Advanced Biology class help them with the task. It seems as if our class has made a pretty good name for itself. We even have a quote from Tom Lance that states, ?I?m impressed, you students and your research are miles ahead of what the professionals have done.? Our phones are always ringing with different organizations asking for a helping hand with tasks concerning the environment. The only problem is we don?t have enough time or manpower to do all of them. We feel that our class has been a major contributing factor in helping with not only the clean up effort of the reservoir, but we also have helped motivate others to do the same. When we finish one project there is always one waiting for us, it seems as though our job is never done. We still plan on seeing our proposition through until the end with an abundance of hope. Our goal is to one day see that vacationing family, along with others, camping on the reservoir -- complete with fresh air, that midnight swim, and a worry-free picnic on the beach. And maybe pull in that prize winning trout that Dad has always been dreaming about.

Each Cow Per Day:

30 lbs of urine
65 lbs of feces

That is about 15 tons of waste per year

Urination Times Daily:
Dry cattle  6.1 times a day
Milking cattle  7.9 times a day

Defecate Times daily:
Dry cattle  13.7 times a day
Milking cattle  15.7 times a day

1000 head of cattle = 12 tons of manure

Water Quality Index Tables
Cow Poetry

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