Environmental setting of benchmark streams in agricultural areas of eastern Wisconsin

Water-Resources Investigations Report 96-4038-A

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This report describes the environmental setting of 20 benchmark streams in agricultural areas of eastern Wisconsin that are part of the Western Lake Michigan Drainages, National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Benchmark streams are defined as those that show minimal adverse effects from human activity, and they were selected on the basis of field reconnaissance and the following criteria: (1) available invertebrate or fisheries data that indicated good to excellent water quality, (2) instream habitat restoration for fisheries enhancement, and (3) land management to protect riparian vegetation. Information gathered from these benchmark sites can be used as a standard of reference to compare the health of other streams in agricultural areas on the basis of aquatic-biota communities, habitat, and water-quality characteristics. The information included in this report serves as background information that will be useful for a series of studies at these benchmark-stream sites in the Western Lake Michigan Drainages study unit as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program.

Four relatively homogeneous units (RHU's) in agricultural areas that differed in bedrock and surficial geology were selected for study. RHU 1 (clayey surficial deposits over carbonate bedrock) and RHU 3 (sandy-till surficial deposits over carbonate bedrock) are in adjacent agricultural areas in the Southeastern Wisconsin Till Plains ecoregion. RHU 20 (sandy/sand and gravel surficial deposits over igneous and metamorphic bedrock) and RHU 26 (sandy/sand and gravel surficial deposits over sandstone bedrock) are in adjacent areas of agriculture and mixed forests in the North Central Hardwood Forests ecoregion.

Differences in land use/land cover, and riparian vegetation and instream habitat characteristics are presented. Summaries of field measurements of water temperature, pH, specific conductance and concentrations of dissolved oxygen, total organic plus ammonia nitrogen, dissolved ammonium, nitrate plus nitrte as nitrogen, total phosphorus, dissolved orthophosphate, and atrazine are listed. Concentrations of dissolved oxygen for the sampled streams ranged from 6 A to 14.3 and met the standards set by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) for supporting fish and aquatic life. Specific conductance ranged from 98 to 753 u,Scm with values highest in RHU's 1 and 3, where streams are underlain by carbonate bedrock. Median pH did not vary greatly among the four RHU's and ranged from 6.7 to 8.8 also meeting the WDNR standards. Concentrations of total organic plus ammonia nitrogen, dissolved ammonium, total phosphorus, and dissolved orthophosphate show little variation between streams and are generally low, compared to concentrations measured in agriculturally-affected streams in the same RHU's during the same sampling period. Concentrations of the most commonly used pesticide in the study unit, atrazine, were low in all streams, and most concentrations were below trn 0.1 u,g/L detection limit. Riparian vegetation for the benchmark streams were characterized by lowland species of the native plant communities described by John T. Curtis in the "Vegetation of Wisconsin." Based on the environmental setting and water-quality information collected to date, these streams appear to show minimal adverse effects from human activity.

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Environmental setting of benchmark streams in agricultural areas of eastern Wisconsin
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Wisconsin Water Science Center
viii, 50 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Lake Michigan
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