Stream habitat characteristics of fixed sites in the western Lake Michigan drainages, Wisconsin and Michigan, 1993-95

Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4211-B




Habitat characteristics of 11 fixed sites in the Western Lake Michigan Drainages were examined by the U.S. Geological Survey from 1993 through 1995 as part of the ecological assessment of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Evaluation of habitat consisted of more than 75 measurements at three spatial levels: drainage basin, stream segment between major tributaries (length from 1 to 14 kilometers), and stream reach (approximately 150 meters). The 11 fixed sites consisted of 8 "indicator" sites with drainage basins that differ in bedrock type, surficial deposits, and land use; and 3 "integrator" sites with drainage basins that contain a mixture of bedrock type, surficial deposits, and land use. Spatial and temporal variations in habitat characteristics are described and compared. Comparisons are limited to indicator sites except for comparisons amongbasin characteristics, which include all fixed sites. Two habitat classification schemes used in Wisconsin and Michigan were used to rank the quality of habitat in indicator streams. Reach-level data were collected at two additional reaches at three of the indicator sites to assess the representativeness of the reach for overall stream conditions.

Although the number of sites is small, statistical analyses indicate that spatial distribution of several characteristics can be related to land use, geology, topography, and width of the riparian zone. Land use and geology, in combination, appeared to be important factors in controlling flood magnitudes. Annual mean flow was correlated with basin shape and drainage density and low flow was correlated with permeability of soils in the basin.

At the reach level, a wide variety of characteristics were observed at the eight indicator sites, with many of the characteristics significantly different between sites. Spatial differences in some reach characteristics can be attributed to the percentage of agriculture in the drainage basin, type of surficial deposits, and width of the riparian zone. Temporal variability in width, depth, and velocity can be attributed to variable flow conditions; whereas temporal variability in streambank measurements are attributed to problematic identification of the boundary between the flood plain and streambanks.

Data from multiple-reach sites indicate that the primary reach adequately represented the variability found within the stream segment for depth, streambank stability index, and canopy angle. However, velocity, dominant substrate type, embeddedness, streambank height, streambank angle, and streambank vegetative stability differed among the multiple reaches at one or more of the three sites.

Correlation analyses of habitat characteristics with median concentrations of four nutrients, pH, and specific conductance indicates that dissolved nitrate plus nitrite concentrations are related to percentage of agriculture in the basin and fine-grained sediment deposition in the reach. Geology and land use appear to be major influences on pH, but their influence on specific conductance, although expected, was not confirmed in this study. Habitat evaluation scores at the eight indicator sites ranged from poor to good. Scores were correlated to the percentage of agricultural or urban land in the drainage basins, width of the riparian zone, and streambank stability index.

Results from this study illustrate the need for collection of habitat data at multiple scales along with water-chemistry data for determining major influences on distribution of aquatic communities. These results also indicate the importance of collecting land use, geological, and geomorphic information at the drainage-basin level to adequately describe how natural and human factors influence local aquatic habitat conditions.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Stream habitat characteristics of fixed sites in the western Lake Michigan drainages, Wisconsin and Michigan, 1993-95
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Wisconsin Water Science Center
viii, 58 p.
United States
Michigan, Wisconsin
Other Geospatial:
Lake Michigan
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