First Advisor

Richard R. Petersen

Term of Graduation

Spring 1975

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Environmental Sciences and Resources: Biology






Water quality -- Oregon -- Tualatin River, Nature -- Effect of human beings on -- Oregon -- Tualatin River, Tualatin River (Or)



Physical Description

1 online resource (4, ix, 166 pages)


A diurnal study of biological, chemical, and physical parameters was made on the middle course of the, Tualatin River, which drains a 1840 km2 (711 mi2) basin adjacent to metropolitan Portland, Oregon. This portion of the river lies along land in transition of use from rural agriculture to highly urbanized development.

There is no nutrient loading of the river from farming practices because there was no return of water from summer, sprinkler irrigation of commercial crops. However, irrigation significantly reduces the volume of water in the river in the summers.

Effluents from sewage treatment plants flowing into the tributaries that drain the highly urbanized eastern areas of the river basin are the main cause of degraded water quality and algal biomass in the lower reaches of the river. The Tualatin River above the mouth of Rock Creek is relatively unpolluted, but downstream from Rock Creek the river is highly eutrophic and during the periods of low flow in the summer serves as a sewage oxidation channel. In this same portion of the river there is also evidence that nitrification occurs.

Winter floods leach nitrate-nitrogen from the basin, but in the summer the possibility exists. that nitrate-nitrogen may be a limiting nutrient for algal productivity in the river above Hillsboro.

The principal source of poly-phosphates is from sewage treatment plant effluents, but concentrations of poly-phosphates in the middle reaches of the river indicate that there is a natural source of poly- and/or ortho-phosphates in the watershed. Removal of phosphorous compounds from the effluents probably would not affect the large algal blooms occurring in the river below Hillsboro.

Trace metal analyses indicated that iron, potassium, nickel, zinc, lead, copper, cobalt, and chromium concentrations were higher during flooding. Turbidity readings suggest that these trace elements are deposited on the floodplain.

Melted snow water, which caused one of the winter floods, contained concentrations of zinc, copper, and lead greater than those found in the river during the flood.

Greater concentrations of arsenic and zinc came from farmland than from urban areas.

Diversities of the net plankton as measured by the Shannon-Weaver Index did not change from season to season, nor with downstream flow. Species in the net plankton were benthic forms at the upper stations and planktonic forms downstream from Hillsboro, especially in the summer when the reduced flow caused the river to pond. The enriched effluents from Rock Creek did not affect the diversity of the organisms downstream, but supported a larger biomass. By rating the diversities with other studies it was found that the middle course of the Tualatin River is eutrophic but not heavily polluted.

A diurnal study was especially valuable from April to September, inclusive, when insolation and temperatures favored biological activities such as photosynthesis and decomposition. From November to January little diurnal change in the water quality was found.

Farming had its greatest impact in the quantity of water and municipalities had a more serious impact on the water quality in the middle course of the Tualatin River. Even with the reduced flow from agricultural irrigation, the river can maintain relatively good water quality, except when effluents from sewage plants caused highly eutrophic conditions.


©1975 Lolita M. Carter

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A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science-Biology.

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