Appendix E. Water quality and hydrology of Green Lake, Wisconsin, and the response in its near-surface water-quality and metalimnetic dissolved oxygen minima to changes in phosphorus loading

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Green Lake is the deepest natural inland lake in Wisconsin, USA, with a maximum depth of about 72 meters (m). In the early 1900’s, the lake was believed to have very good water quality (low nutrient concentrations and good water clarity), with low dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations only in the deepest part of the lake. Because of increased phosphorus (P) inputs from anthropogenic activities in its watershed, total phosphorus (TP) concentrations in the lake increased, which led to increased algal production and low DO concentrations not only occurring in its deepest areas but also in the middle of the water column (metalimnion). Routine monitoring of the lake and its tributaries has been conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey since 2004 and 1988, respectively. Results from this monitoring led to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) listing the lake as impaired because of low DO concentrations in the metalimnion, with elevated TP concentrations identified as the cause of impairment.

As part of this study, comprehensive sampling of the lake and its tributaries was conducted in 2017–2018 to augment ongoing monitoring and further describe the low DO concentrations in the lake (especially in the metalimnion). Empirical and process-driven water quality models were then used to determine the causes of the low DO concentrations and the magnitude of P load reductions needed to improve the water quality of the lake to meet multiple water-quality goals, including the WDNR criteria for TP and DO.

Data from previous studies showed that DO concentrations in the metalimnion decreased slightly as summer progressed in the early 1900’s, but since the late 1970s have typically dropped below 5 milligrams per liter (mg/L), which is the WDNR criterion for impairment. During 2014–2018 (baseline period for this study), the near-surface geometric-mean TP concentration during June–September in the east side of the lake was 0.020 mg/L and in the west side was 0.016 mg/L (both were below the 0.015 mg/L WDNR criterion for the lake), and the minimum metalimnetic DO concentrations measured in August ranged from 1.0 to 4.7 mg/L. It was believed that the degradation in water quality was caused by excessive P inputs to the lake; therefore, the total P inputs to the lake were estimated. The mean annual external P load during 2014–2018 was estimated to be 8,980 kilograms per year (kg/yr), of which monitored and unmonitored tributary inputs contributed 84 percent, atmospheric inputs contributed 8 percent, waterfowl contributed 7 percent, and septic systems contributed 1 percent. At fall turnover, internal sediment recycling contributed an additional 7,040 kg that increased TP concentrations in shallow areas of the lake by about 0.020 mg/L. The elevated TP concentrations then persisted until the following spring. On an annual basis, however, there is a net deposition of P to the bottom sediments.

Empirical models were used to describe how the near-surface water quality of Green Lake would be expected to respond to changes in external P loading. Predictions from the models showed a relatively linear response between P loading and TP and chlorophyll-a (Chl-a) concentrations in the lake, with the changes in TP and Chl-a concentrations being less on a percentage basis (50–60 percent for TP and 30–70 percent for Chl-a) than the changes in P loading. Mean summer water clarity, indicated by Secchi disk depths, had a larger response to decreases in P loading than to increases in loading. Based on these relations, external P loading to the lake would need to be decreased from 8,980 kg/yr to about 5,460 kg/yr for the geometric mean June–September TP concentration on the east side of the lake, with higher TP concentrations than the west side, to reach the WDNR criterion of 0.015 mg/L. This reduction of 3,520 kg/yr equates to a 46-percent reduction in the potentially controllable external P sources (all external sources except precipitation, atmospheric deposition, and waterfowl) from that measured during water years (WYs) 2014–2018. The total external P loading would need to be decreased to 7,680 kg/yr (17-percent reduction in potentially controllable external P sources) for near-surface June–September TP concentrations in the west side of the lake to reach 0.015 mg/L. Total external P loading would need to be decreased to 3,870–5,320 kg/yr for the lake to be classified as oligotrophic, with a near-surface June-September TP concentration of 0.012 mg/L.

Results from the hydrodynamic water-quality model GLM-AED (General Lake Model coupled to the Aquatic Ecodynamics modeling library) indicated that metalimnetic DO minima are driven by external P loading and internal sediment recycling that lead to high TP concentrations during spring and early summer, which in turn lead to high phytoplankton production, high metabolism and respiration, and ultimately DO consumption in the upper, warmer areas of the metalimnion. GLM-AED results indicated that settling of organic material during summer may be slowed by the colder, denser, and more viscous water in the metalimnion and increase DO consumption. Based on empirical evidence comparing minimum metalimnetic DO concentrations with various meteorological, hydrologic, water quality, and in-lake physical factors, lower metalimnetic DO concentrations occurred when there was warmer metalimnetic water temperatures, higher near-surface Chl-a and TP concentrations, and lower Secchi depths during summer. GLM-AED results indicated that the external P load would need to be reduced to about 4,010 kg/yr, a 57-percent reduction from that measured in 2014–2018, to eliminate the occurrence of metalimnetic DO minima of less than 5 mg/L in over 75 percent of the years (the target provided by the WDNR).

Large reductions in external P loading are expected to have an immediate effect on the near-surface TP concentrations and metalimnetic DO concentrations in Green Lake. However, it may take several years for the full effects of the external load reduction to be observed because internal sediment recycling is an important source of P for the following spring.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Appendix E. Water quality and hydrology of Green Lake, Wisconsin, and the response in its near-surface water-quality and metalimnetic dissolved oxygen minima to changes in phosphorus loading
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Green Lake Association
Contributing office(s) Upper Midwest Water Science Center
Description vii, 115 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype Other Report
Larger Work Title Diagnostic and feasibility study findings: Water quality improvements for Green Lake, Wisconsin
Country United States
State Wisconsin
Other Geospatial Green Lake
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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