Hydrology, aquatic macrophytes, and water quality of Black Earth Creek and its tributaries, Dane County, Wisconsin, 1985-86

Water-Resources Investigations Report 89-4089

Prepared in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources



An intensive data-collection program for the Black Earth Creek basin in southern Wisconsin was conducted from October 1984 through September 1986 to assess the hydrology, aquatic macrophytes, and water quality in Black Earth Creek by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Three sites on two cold-water trout streams Black Earth Creek at Cross Plains, Black Earth Creek near Cross Plains, and Garfoot Creek near Cross Plains were continuously monitored for streamflow and water-quality data. One site in a warm-water stream, Brewery Creek at Cross Plains, also was monitored. Aquatic macrophyte biomass was determined for three sites on Black Earth Creek.

Streamflow at Black Earth Creek at Black Earth during the 1985 and 1986 water years (WY) were 44 and 60 percent greater than the long-term mean discharge of 33.3 ft3/s (cubic feet per second) for the period 1955-86. Water year 1986 had the highest annual mean discharge, 53.4 ft3/s, since records began in 1954 at the most downstream site Black Earth Creek at Black Earth. Although there have been considerable fluctuations in streamflow, it has tended to increase since WY 1965 as a result of above-average precipitation and consequent rising ground-water levels.

Trout population densities may be related to annual mean streamflow. A regression analysis of adult trout populations and the 3-year moving annual mean discharge had a correlation coefficient of 0.75 with a standard error of 83 percent.

Aquatic macrophyte biomass in Black Earth Creek was substantially less in 1986 than in 1985 as a result of substrate scouring from the flood of July 25, 1985. The frequency of occurrence of species during 1985 and 1986 was similar to that of 1981, and seasonal succession of species also was similar; Potamogeton crispus dominated early in the year and senesced in July. P. crispus and P. pectinatus, both indicative of eutrophic conditions, dominated upstream and downstream, respectively; neither species is native to the area. In 1985, the greatest biomass was found upstream from Cross Plains. This large biomass caused diurnal fluctuations in dissolved-oxygen concentration of 5 to 6 mg/L (milligrams per liter) as a result of photosynthesis and respiration. Many of the dissolved-oxygen minimums, recorded at night, were less than the State 6.0-mg/L water-quality standard for trout waters. Discharge from point sources may adversely affect Black Earth Creek's water quality. Warm water discharged to Black Earth Creek from a gravel pit operation upstream from Cross Plains increased water temperatures 2 to 4 degrees Celsius and decreased the dissolved oxygen about 1 mg/L at a site 1.8 miles downstream. Runoff from a settling pond from a landfill operation in the headwaters of the Black Earth Creek basin drains through a wetland that drains to Black Earth Creek and contained as much as 60 mg/L ammonia nitrogen, 980 mg/L biochemical oxygen demand, and 1,300 mg/L chemical oxygen demand, which may be detrimental to trout.

Garfoot Creek had the highest suspended-sediment and phosphorus yields per unit area of the three upstream basins during low to moderate runoff. Detention ponds in the Brewery Creek basin appear to be less effective in controlling suspended-sediment and phosphorus loads during periods of high runoff than during moderate runoff. Brewery Creek had the highest concentrations of suspended sediment and total phosphorus during low and high flows. The water quality at the Black Earth Creek gaging station at Black Earth was affected by Garfoot Creek and unnamed tributaries. As a result, yields of suspended sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen increased between Cross Plains and Black Earth. High streamflows during WY 1985 resulted in suspendedsediment yields at Black Earth Creek at Black Earth that were 29 percent greater than the 12-year (1955-65, 85-86) mean; yields ranged from 69.5 ton/mi2 (tons per square mile) in Black Earth Creek at Cross Plains to 116 ton/mi2 in the Brewery Creek basin. Phosphorus yields ranged from 312 lb/mi2 (pounds per square mile) in Black Earth Creek at Cross Plains to 628 lb/mi2 in the Brewery Creek basin. Total nitrogen yields ranged from 3,280 lb/mi2 in the Brewery Creek basin to 6,920 lb/mi2 in the Garfoot Creek basin.

An increase in oxygen demand, caused by agricultural runoff, has resulted in reduced dissolved-oxygen content of the water in both Black Earth and Garfoot Creeks. The most substantial reduction occurred at Black Earth Creek at Cross Plains on July 25, 1985, as a result of the largest storm runoff event during the study. A rainfall of 5.54 inches caused streamflow discharges to increase from 9 to 122 ft3/s and dissolved-oxygen concentrations to decline to 3.0 mg/L; the dissolved-oxygen concentration was less than 6.0 mg/L for 30 hours.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrology, aquatic macrophytes, and water quality of Black Earth Creek and its tributaries, Dane County, Wisconsin, 1985-86
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Wisconsin Water Science Center
vi, 38 p.
United States
Dane County
Other Geospatial:
Black Earth Creek
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