The effects of shoreline development on water quality and nutrient yields in nearshore areas of four lakes in northern Wisconsin were investigated from October 1999 through September 2001. The study measured surface runoff and ground-water flows from paired developed (sites containing lawn, rooftops, sidewalks, and driveways) and undeveloped (mature and immature woods) catchments adjacent to four lakes in northern Wisconsin. Water samples from surface runoff and ground water were collected and analyzed for nutrients. Coupled with water volumes, loads and subsequent yields of selected constituents were computed for developed and undeveloped catchments.
The median runoff from lawn surfaces ranged from 0.0019 to 0.059 inch over the catchment area. Median surface runoff estimates from the wooded catchments were an order of magnitude less than those from the lawn catchments. The increased water volumes from the lawn catchments resulted in greater nutrient loads and subsequent annual nutrient yields from the developed sites.
Soil temperature and soil moisture were measured at two sites with mixed lawn and wooded areas. At both of these sites, the area covered with a lawn commonly was warmer than the wooded area. No consistent differences in soil moisture were found.
A ground-water model was constructed to simulate the local flow systems at two of the paired catchments. Model simulations showed that much of the ground water delivered to the lake originated from distant areas that did not contribute runoff directly to the lake.
Surface runoff and ground-water nutrient concentrations from the lawn and wooded catchments did not have apparent patterns. Some of the median concentrations from lawns were significantly different (at the 0.05 significance level) from those at wooded catchments.
Water wells and piezometers were sampled for chemical analyses three times during the study period. Variability in the shallow ground-water chemistry over time in the lawn samples was larger than samples from the wooded areas and upgradient wells.
Median nutrient yields in surface runoff from lawns always were greater than those from the wooded catchments. Runoff volumes were the most important factor in determining whether lawns or wooded catchments contribute more nutrients to the lake.
The ground-water system had appreciable nutrient concentrations, and are likely an important pathway for nutrient transport to the lake. The nitrate plus nitrite nitrogen and total phosphorus yields to the ground-water system from a lawn catchment were approximately 3 to 4 times greater than those from the wooded catchment. There was no difference in the yields of dissolved inorganic phosphorus to the ground-water system from the lawn and wooded catchments.
Study results demonstrate that choosing the appropriate landscape position for locating lawns in sloped areas (specifically, slopes that do not terminate at the lake or areas with intervening flat or buffer zones between lawn and lake) can help reduce the adverse effect of lawns on the shallow ground water and, ultimately, the lake. Additional information would be needed to extrapolate these results to a large drainage area of a lake.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrology, nutrient concentrations, and nutrient yields in nearshore areas of four lakes in northern Wisconsin, 1999-2001