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Streamflow, water quality, and contaminant loads in the lower Charles River Watershed, Massachusetts, 1999-2000

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4137

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Abstract

Streamflow data and dry-weather and stormwater water-quality samples were collected from the main stem of the Charles River upstream of the lower Charles River (or the Basin) and from four partially culverted urban streams that drain tributary subbasins in the lower Charles River Watershed. Samples were collected between June 1999 and September 2000 and analyzed for a number of potential contaminants including nitrate (plus nitrite), ammonia, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, phosphorus, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, and zinc; and water-quality properties including specific conductance, turbidity, biochemical oxygen demand, fecal coliform bacteria, Entero-coccus bacteria, total dissolved solids, and total suspended sediment. These data were used to identify the major pathways and to determine the magnitudes of contaminants loads that contribute to the poor water quality of the lower Charles River. Water-quality and streamflow data, for one small urban stream and two storm drains that drain subbasins with uniform (greater than 73 percent) land use (including single-family residential, multifamily residential, and commercial), also were collected. These data were used to elucidate relations among streamflow, water quality, and subbasin characteristics. Streamflow in the lower Charles River Watershed can be characterized as being unsettled and flashy. These characteristics result from the impervious character of the land and the complex infrastructure of pipes, pumps, diversionary canals, and detention ponds throughout the watershed. The water quality of the lower Charles River can be considered good?meeting water-quality standards and guidelines?during dry weather. After rainstorms, however, the water quality of the river becomes impaired, as in other urban areas. The poor quality of stormwater and its large quantity, delivered over short periods (hours and days), together with illicit sanitary cross connections, and combined sewer overflows, results in large contaminant loads that appear to exceed the river?s assimilative capacity. Annual contaminant loads from stormwater discharges directly to the lower Charles River are large, but most dry-weather and stormwater contaminant loads measured in this study originate from upstream of the Watertown Dam and are delivered to the lower Charles River in mainstem flows. An exception is fecal coliform bacteria. Stony Brook, a large tributary influenced by combined sewer overflow, contributed almost half of the annual fecal coliform load to the lower Charles River for Water Year 2000. Much of this fecal coliform bacteria load is discharged from Stony Brook to the lower Charles River during rain-storms. Estimated stormwater loads for future conditions suggest that sewer separation in the Stony Brook Subbasin might reduce loads of constituents associated with sewage but increase loads of constituents associated with street runoff. The unique environment offered by the lower Charles River must be considered when the environmental implications of large contaminant loads are interpreted. In particular, the lower Charles River has low hydraulic gradients, a lack of tidal flushing, a lack of natural uncontaminated sediment from erosion of upstream uncontaminated soils, and an anoxic, sulfide-rich bottom layer that forms a non-tidal salt wedge in the downstream part of the lower Charles River. Individually and in combination, these characteristics may increase the likelihood of adverse effects of some contaminants on the water, biota, and sediment of the lower Charles River.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Streamflow, water quality, and contaminant loads in the lower Charles River Watershed, Massachusetts, 1999-2000
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
2002-4137
Edition:
-
Year Published:
2002
Language:
ENGLISH
Description:
vi, 131 p. : ill. (some col.), maps (some col.) ; 28 cm.