The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Johnson County Stormwater Management Program, evaluated suspended-sediment transport and sources in the urbanizing, 57.4 mi2 Mill Creek watershed from February 2006 through June 2007. Sediment transport and sources were assessed spatially by continuous monitoring of streamflow and turbidity as well as sampling of suspended sediment at nine sites in the watershed.
Within Mill Creek subwatersheds (2.8-16.9 mi2), sediment loads at sites downstream from increased construction activity were substantially larger (per unit area) than those at sites downstream from mature urban areas or less-developed watersheds. Sediment transport downstream from construction sites primarily was limited by transport capacity (streamflow), whereas availability of sediment supplies primarily influenced transport downstream from mature urban areas. Downstream sampling sites typically had smaller sediment loads (per unit area) than headwater sites, likely because of sediment deposition in larger, less sloping stream channels. Among similarly sized storms, those with increased precipitation intensity transported more sediment at eight of the nine monitoring sites. Storms following periods of increased sediment loading transported less sediment at two of the nine monitoring sites.
In addition to monitoring performed in the Mill Creek watershed, sediment loads were computed for the four other largest watersheds (48.6-65.7 mi2) in Johnson County (Blue River, Cedar, Indian, and Kill Creeks) during the study period. In contrast with results from smaller watersheds in Mill Creek, sediment load (per unit area) from the most urbanized watershed in Johnson County (Indian Creek) was more than double that of other large watersheds. Potential sources of this sediment include legacy sediment from earlier urban construction, accelerated stream-channel erosion, or erosion from specific construction sites, such as stream-channel disturbance during bridge renovation. The implication of this finding is that sediment yields from larger watersheds may remain elevated after the majority of urban development is complete.
Surface soil, channel-bank, suspended-sediment, and streambed-sediment samples were analyzed for grain size, nutrients, trace elements, and radionuclides in the Mill Creek watershed to characterize suspended sediment between surface or channel-bank sources. Although concentrations and activities of cobalt, nitrogen, selenium, total organic carbon, cesium-137, and excess lead-210 had significant differences between surface and channel-bank samples, biases resulting from urban construction, additional sorption of constituents during sediment transport, and inability to accurately represent erosion from rills and gullies precluded accurate characterization of suspended-sediment source.