Characterization of water quality in Bushy Park Reservoir, South Carolina, 2013–15

Scientific Investigations Report 2018-5010

Prepared in cooperation with Charleston Water System



The Bushy Park Reservoir is the principal water supply for 400,000 people in the greater Charleston, South Carolina, area, which includes homes as well as businesses and industries in the Bushy Park Industrial Complex. Charleston Water System and the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a cooperative study during 2013–15 to assess the circulation of Bushy Park Reservoir and its effects on water-quality conditions, specifically, recurring taste-and-odor episodes. This report describes the water-quality data collected for the study that included a combination of discrete water-column sampling at seven locations in the reservoir and longitudinal water-quality profiling surveys of the reservoir and tributaries to characterize the temporal and spatial water-quality dynamics of Bushy Park Reservoir. Water-quality profiling surveys were conducted with an autonomous underwater vehicle equipped with a multiparameter water-quality-sonde bulkhead. Data collected by the autonomous underwater vehicle included water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance, turbidity, total chlorophyll as fluorescence (estimate of algal biomass), and phycocyanin as fluorescence (estimate of cyanobacteria biomass) data.

Characterization of the water-quality conditions in the reservoir included comparison to established State nutrient guidelines, identification of any spatial and seasonal variation in water-quality conditions and phytoplankton community structures, and assessment of the degree of influence of water-quality conditions related to Foster Creek and Durham Canal inflows, especially during periods of elevated taste-and-odor concentrations. Depth-profile and autonomous underwater vehicle survey data were used to identify areas within the reservoir where greater phytoplankton and cyanobacteria densities were most likely occurring.

Water-quality survey results indicated that Bushy Park Reservoir tended to stratify thermally at a depth of about 20 feet from June to early October. The stratification was limited to the deeper portions of the reservoir near the dam and often dissipated within the reservoir near the CWS intake less than a mile upstream from the dam. Where thermally stratified, a corresponding depletion of dissolved oxygen also occurred at about the same depth and resulted in an anoxic hypolimnion below the 25-foot depth and an increase in specific conductance, likely due to re-mobilized metals and phosphorus under reducing conditions. In general, chlorophyll estimated from fluorescence exhibited some spatial variation, but no strong consistent pattern or “hot spot” was observed. Phycocyanin, estimated from relative fluorescence unit output as blue-green algae cell density, periodically seemed to be greater in the upper portion of the reservoir, but those differences may be attributed to increased turbidity and the potential change in phytoplankton community structure that affects fluorescence. Increased phycocyanin was observed at about the 10-foot depth during the summer months.

A constant production of 2-methylisoborneol (MIB) near the dam and geosmin in the middle and upper portions of the reservoir appears to be occurring during the summer and early fall in the reservoir, but concentrations of these compounds tend to be between 10 and 15 nanograms per liter, which is at the Charleston Water System treatment threshold. At the Bushy Park Reservoir intake, the dominant taste-and-odor compound tended to be MIB, measured at a 2- or 3-to-1 ratio with geosmin during the summer and fall. During springtime episodes, however, when taste-and-odor compound concentrations typically are elevated above the Charleston Water System treatment threshold, the spatial distribution of geosmin concentrations greater than 15 nanograms per liter (28 to 38 nanograms per liter) was best explained by in situ production in the lower portion of the Bushy Park Reservoir near the dam rather than transport from Foster Creek. This pattern seems to indicate a possible shift in phytoplankton communities (or, at least, cyanobacteria communities) from MIB producers to geosmin producers.

The spatial and seasonal assessment of water-quality conditions in Bushy Park Reservoir identified seasonal differences in water chemistry and spatial differences between the upper and lower portions of the reservoir that correspond to the location of elevated geosmin concentrations. On the basis of the spatial and seasonal assessment of actinomycetes concentrations compared to taste-and-odor compound concentrations, cyanobacteria production likely was the dominant source of the taste-and-odor episodes rather than actinomycetes. The lack of spatial and seasonal patterns in actinomycetes concentrations did not correspond to the springtime geosmin concentrations that were elevated above the Charleston Water System treatment threshold in the lower portion of the reservoir. Additionally, actinomycetes concentrations, although ubiquitous, had a median of about 9 and maximum of about 20 colonies per milliliter, which can be considered low for elevated taste-and-odor compound production. Nonetheless, the potential exists for actinomycetes to be a secondary source of taste-and-odor production and could explain some of the ubiquitous occurrence of low-level taste-and-odor production, such as MIB concentrations, observed throughout the summer and early fall months.

When evaluated by biovolume, cyanobacteria were not the dominant phytoplankton group in Bushy Park Reservoir during the study period. Dolichospermum planctonicum (previously Anabaena planktonica ) was the dominant genera of the cyanobacteria group during spring periods. The geosmin-producing genera that were identified in the 2014 and 2015 spring communities in Bushy Park Reservoir were not observed in the 1999 and 2000 algal taxonomic data.

A more robust examination of phytoplankton species was conducted by using a multivariate analysis that identified seasonal changes in phytoplankton community structure. These seasonal phytoplankton communities appeared to be explained by seasonal changes in water chemistry and may be responsible for episodes of taste-and-odor occurrence, especially geosmin. The most probable source of geosmin identified during the study was D. planctonicum.

In a synoptic sampling event during a taste-and-odor episode in April 2015, cyanobacteria, not acinomycetes, also was indicated to be the more prevalent source of the geosmin. Although the Edisto River intake and its associated supply tunnel to the treatment facility had relatively high actinomycetes concentrations (130 and 140 colonies per milliliter, respectively) compared to the Bushy Park intake and tunnel (2 colonies per milliliter), corresponding geosmin concentrations were below 5 nanograms per liter for source water from the Edisto River intake and tunnel. Elevated geosmin concentrations above the Charleston Water System treatment threshold were identified in source waters from the Bushy Park Reservoir. The cyanobacteria community at the sampled sites in April 2015 was statistically similar to the community in the Bushy Park Reservoir in April 2014, when geosmin concentrations also were elevated. The only geosmin-producing genus identified at the Bushy Park intake, however, was D. planctonicum.

Suggested Citation

Conrads, P.A., Journey, C.A., Petkewich, M.D., Lanier, T.H., and Clark, J.M., 2018, Characterization of water quality in Bushy Park Reservoir, South Carolina, 2013–15: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5010, 175 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Approach and Methods
  • Characterization of Reservoir Water Quality
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Operation and data processing of the EcoMapper Iver2 autonomous underwater vehicle
  • Appendix 2. Plots showing 2D longitudinal profiles for seven parameters for 16 autonomous underwater vehicle water-quality surveys 
  • Appendix 3. Water-quality profile data collected from the Bushy Park Reservoir, near Goose Creek, South Carolina, between September 2013 and April 2015
  • Appendix 4. Summary of the quality assurance and quality control data collected in Bushy Park Reservoir, near Goose Creek, South Carolina, September 2013 to April 2015
  • Appendix 5. Analytical results for water-column samples collected in Bushy Park Reservoir, near Goose Creek, South Carolina, September 2013 to April 2015

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Characterization of water quality in Bushy Park Reservoir, South Carolina, 2013–15
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
xi, 175 p.
United States
South Carolina
Other Geospatial:
Bushy Park Reservoir
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files (Y/N):