Water Quality Division
Blue Thumb Program
Washita River: Black Kettle
NW SW NW
Roger Mills County
Lat N 35° 37’ 13.2”
Long W 99° 42” 44.5”
WBID#: OK 310840-02-0010M
Blue Thumb Volunteer Monitoring Data Interpretation – February 2012
Written by Nena Wells
Description of Watershed and Monitoring Site
The headwaters of the Washita River starts near the town of Miami, Texas in the Texas Panhandle, located in Roberts County. The Washita River runs for 35 miles before it enters into Oklahoma. The Washita River runs for approximately 23 miles in an easterly direction through native and introduced grasslands with a few cropland fields scattered along the way, before entering our monitoring site. The site where we monitor is located in Cheyenne, Oklahoma, above where Col. George A. Custer attacked Black Kettle’s Village in November 1868. The Washita River then flows on the north side of Cheyenne and continues east southeast through Oklahoma eventually flowing into Lake Texoma in south central Oklahoma on the Oklahoma/Texas state line.
Stream Condition & Habitat Overview
The habitat assessment at this site on the Washita River was measured on 9/29/2004 and 6/23/2009. The Washita River fluctuated in terms of streamside cover, bank stability, flow, canopy cover shading, and bank vegetation stability. It scored low in the terms of instream cover, pool bottom substrate, pool variability, presences of rocky runs or riffles, and channel sinuosity. The banks show high to medium stability even though there is not a lot of vegetation. There are limited places in the stream for fish to nest; the Washita River has a very unstable sandy bottom and lacks rocky runs or riffles. There is not much instream cover (aquatic plants, woody debris, undercut banks, etc.) for the fish. The Washita River is usually swift and very hard to get a secchi (water clarity) reading and looks deep, but usually it is only knee deep. Due to the extreme weather conditions that we have in Western Oklahoma we never know if the Washita River will have water or not.
Using the average of high quality reference streams in this ecoregion (Central Great Plains) as the benchmark the Washita River ranks well below the average due to a low amount of fish species and all the fish are tolerant of pollution. The fish community is poor in both fish collections conducted in 2004 and 2009. Pollution tolerant fish species were the dominant with one species found of intermediate tolerance, the sand shiner. The condition gets an E rating in 2004 and a D rating in 2009 on a scale of A to E for biological sampling.
The Washita River is not the perfect environment for fish habitat due to lack of cover, the fluctuation of the water levels, no rocky riffles and nor deep pools, and the shifting sand bottom of the river.
Benthic Macroinvertebrates (creek bugs)
Benthic macroinvertebrates have been collected from stream side vegetation at the Washita River in both summers and winters since 2003. Over the years the summer collections have scored better than the Central Great Plains Reference average. The winter collections have scored an A every year but two; 2006 and 2007 scored C. These two years lost a lot of the sensitive bugs and in turn decreased the diversity of the bug population. During the summer of 1999 we had one riffle bug collection and it scored a B, and the summer of 2004 we had one Woody Debris bug collection and it scored an A.
Overall, the Washita River bug collections are comparable to the best situation expected within this ecoregion and they have a balanced community structure for the stream size.
The oxygen saturation level generally follows the summer/winter undulation with few dips into the caution range. The percent oxygen saturation was below 80% seven times of 79 times the water was tested since January 2003. The lowest value was 10% on 1/9/07.
For the most part the pH level averages 8.00 which is very normal. There has been two readings since January 2003 that have tested below the 8.00 and they were a 7.7 on 6/1/04 and a 7.5 on 7/6/06. All of the data are well within the normal values.
On the average since we started testing in 2003 the levels for Nitrate have been below the detectable level. There was a few months that there were small amounts but otherwise the nitrate level have been amazingly good.
Only three times since January 2003 has there been any ammonia nitrogen detectable at all, and that was a very low level of 0.20mg/L on 9/2/03, 11/14/06 and 12/5/06.
Half of the phosphorous readings have been in the normal range since testing started in January 2003. There have been 23 times that the readings have been in the caution level, above 0.05mg/L. Five readings were above the caution level of 0.1mg/L with the highest reading of 0.730mg/L on 7/15/08.
The chloride readings have all been in the normal ranges.
The health of a stream is determined by the physical habitat, the water chemistry and the biological community that lives in it. The habitat of the Washita River is mostly a shallow swift running river with a shifting sand bottom, very little canopy cover or vegetative cover or deep pools so the fish and bug population. They have to adapt with the fluctuating water levels making it hard for the fish and bugs to survive and thrive. Water chemistry indicates the Washita River is healthy and mostly within normal parameters. The benthic macroinvertebrates are also within the normal parameters. At this time the Washita River seems to be a healthy river but we are concerned for the future quality of the river due to the extreme amount of oilfield activity within the watershed boundaries of the river. Only time and the data collected will be able to tell us the effects the pollutants have to the water quality within our river.