Macroinvertebrates were collected as part of two separate urban water-quality studies from adjacent basins, the Blue River Basin (Kansas City, Missouri), the Little Blue River and Rock Creek Basins (Independence, Missouri), and their tributaries. Consistent collection and processing procedures between the studies allowed for statistical comparisons. Seven Blue River Basin sites, nine Little Blue River Basin sites, including Rock Creek, and two rural sites representative of Missouri ecological drainage units and the area’s ecoregions were used in the analysis. Different factors or levels of urban intensity may affect the basins and macroinvertebrate community metrics differently, even though both basins are substantially developed above their downstream streamgages (Blue River, 65 percent; Little Blue River, 52 percent). The Blue River has no flood control reservoirs and receives wastewater effluent and stormflow from a combined sewer system. The Little Blue River has flood control reservoirs, receives no wastewater effluent, and has a separate stormwater sewer system. Analysis of macroinvertebrate community structure with pollution-tolerance metrics and water-quality parameters indicated differences between the Blue River Basin and the Little Blue River Basin.
A four-metric score (total taxa richness, Ephemeroptera plus Plecoptera plus Trichoptera taxa richness, Macroinvertebrate Biotic Index, and Shannon Diversity Index) for richest-targeted habitat was used to calculate a Stream Condition Index (SCI) in order to evaluate the aquatic-life status of the streams. About 80 percent of all samples combined were determined to be less than fully biologically supporting, and about 11 percent of spring samples were fully biologically supporting. No sites within the Blue River Basin had a fully supporting score. The aquatic-life status scores for the Little Blue River and its tributaries were higher (indicating more optimal conditions) than for the Blue River and its tributaries. Fall samples scored higher than spring samples. However, fall samples were collected at the Little Blue River Basin and rural sites only. The Little Blue River sites scored higher for fall samples than spring samples; about 39 percent fully biologically supporting and 61 percent partially biologically supporting; more similar to the rural comparison sites, 40 percent fully biologically supporting and 60 percent partially biologically supporting.
The SCI was compared to other multimetric indices with more or other component metrics to determine if the SCI effectively described differences among sites. Environmental variables (streamflow, water quality, land use, impervious cover, and population density) were used in statistical analyses to evaluate relations to macroinvertebrate metrics. Multimetric indices (MMIs) were modeled using step regression with a simple urban intensity index (SUII) based on percentage of impervious cover, population density, and forest cover in a 30-meter stream-buffer zone, and two were selected for further analysis. Three other multimetric indices composed of metrics common to local and national studies show results similar to the two modeled MMIs. A common Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (R2 equals 0.71) developed for a national study had the highest correlation with urban intensity as measured with the SUII, followed by a modeled 6-metric index (R2 equals 0.61). The other MMIs and the SCI explained less than a half of the variability in macroinvertebrate communities in relation to the SUII.
Wastewater-treatment plant discharges during base flow, which elevated specific conductance and nutrient concentrations, combined sewer overflows, and nonpoint sources likely contributed to water-quality impairment and lower aquatic-life status at the Blue River Basin sites. Releases from upstream reservoirs to the Little Blue River likely decreased specific conductance, suspended-sediment, and dissolved constituent concentrations and may have benefitted water quality and aquatic life of main-stem sites. Chloride concentrations in base-flow samples, attributable to winter road salt application, had the highest correlation with the SUII (Spearman’s ρ equals 0.87), were negatively correlated with the SCI (Spearman’s ρ equals -0.53) and several pollution sensitive Ephemeroptera plus Plecoptera plus Trichoptera abundance and percent richness metrics, and were positively correlated with pollution tolerant Oligochaeta abundance and percent richness metrics. Study results show that the easily calculated SUII and the selected modeled multimetric indices are effective for comparing urban basins and for evaluation of water quality in the Kansas City metropolitan area.