The lack of concurrent water-quality and hydrologic data on riparian wetlands in the Midwestern United States has resulted in a lack of knowledge about the water-quality functions that these wetlands provide. Therefore, Little Bean Marsh, a remnant riparian wetland along the Missouri River, was investigated in 1996 and 1997 primarily to determine the magnitude and character of selected water-quality benefits that can be produced in such a wetland and to identify critical processes that can be managed in remnant or restored riparian wetlands for amelioration of water quality.
Little Bean Marsh averages 69 hectares in size, has a maximum depth of about 1 meter, and the majority of the marsh is covered by macrophytes. In 1997, 41 percent of the water received by Little Bean Marsh was from direct precipitation, 14 percent was from ground-water seepage, 30 percent from watershed runoff, and 15 percent was backflow from Bean Lake. Although, Little Bean Marsh was both a ground-water recharge and discharge area, discharge to the marsh was three times the recharge to ground water. Ground-water levels closely tracked marsh water levels indicating a strong hydraulic connection between ground water and the marsh. Reduced surface runoff and ground-water availability are stabilizing influences on marsh hydrology and probably contribute to the persistence of emergent vegetation. The rapid hydraulic connection between Little Bean Marsh and ground water indicates that the hydrologic regime of most wetlands along the lower Missouri River is largely a function of the altitude of the marsh bottom relative to the altitude of the water table.
More water was lost from the marsh through evapotranspiration (59 percent) than all other pathways combined. This is partially because the transpiration process of abundant macrophytes can greatly contribute to the evapotranspiration above that lost from open water surfaces. Surface outflow accounted for 36 percent and ground-water seepage accounted for only 5 percent of the losses. Large residence times allows the marsh to greatly affect water quality before water escapes as ground-water recharge or surface outflow.
The shallowness of Little Bean Marsh and ion exclusion during ice formation caused the highest specific conductances of 1,100 to 1,300 microsiemens per centimeter at 25 degrees Celsius to occur during the winter. This concentration of dissolved solutes under ice can make wetlands more vulnerable to toxic contaminants than deeper surface-water bodies.
Dissolved oxygen was less than 5 mg/L (milligrams per liter) for 3 to 4 months and near 0 mg/L for about 1 month in summer. Despite depths of less than 1 meter, temperature stratification persisted more than 3 months during the summers of 1996 and 1997, preventing mixing and contributing to periods of anoxia. Shallow depths and extended periods of anoxia in the marsh limit the ability of some organisms to escape high-temperature stress.
Turbidity in Little Bean Marsh usually was low for several reasons: sediment loadings from the largely flood-plain drainage were low, emergent vegetation shade out algae and shield the water from wind, and high concentrations of bivalent cations increase flocculation rates of inorganic suspended material. The high concentrations of bivalent cations was largely because of a substantial amount of ground-water seepage into the marsh.
Dissolved organic nitrogen was the dominant nitrogen species in Little Bean Marsh. Denitrification and biotic uptake kept more than 62 percent of nitrate (NO3) and 43 percent of ammonium (NH4) concentrations in marsh samples less than a detection limit of 0.005 mg/L. This contrasts with the Missouri River where inorganic NO3 dominates. Consequently, artificial flood-plain drainage that bypasses riparian wetlands likely deliver substantially more biotically available inorganic nitrogen to receiving waters than surface water that has been routed through a remnant wetland. Aver