Effects of a Cattail Wetland on Water Quality of Irondequoit Creek near Rochester, New York

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2000-4032

Prepared in cooperation with the Monroe County Department of Health
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A 6-year (1990-96) study of the Ellison Park wetland, a 423-acre, predominantly cattail (Typha glauca) marsh in Monroe County, N.Y., was conducted to document the effect that this wetland has on the water quality of Irondequoit Creek, which flows through it. Irondequoit Creek drains 151 square miles of mostly urban and suburban land and is the main tributary to Irondequoit Bay on Lake Ontario. The wetland was a sink for total phosphorus and total suspended solids (28 and 47 percent removal efficiencies, respectively, over the 6-year study period). Sedimentation and vegetative filtration appear to be the primary mechanisms for the decrease in loads of these constituents. Total nitrogen loads were decreased slightly by the wetland; removal efficiencies for ammonia-plus-organic nitrogen and nitrate-plus-nitrite were 6 and 3 percent, respectively. The proportions of total phosphorus and total nitrogen constituents were altered by the wetland. Orthophosphate and ammonia nitrogen were generated within the wetland and represented 12 percent of the total phosphorus output load and 1.8 percent of total nitrogen output load, respectively. Conservative chemicals, such as chloride and sulfate, were littleaffected by the wetland. Concentrations of zinc, lead, and cadmium showed statistically significant decreases, which are attributed to sedimentation and filtration of sediment and organic matter to which these elements adsorb.

Sediment samples from open-water depositional areas in the wetland contained high concentrations of (1) trace metals, including barium, manganese, strontium, zinc (each of which exceeded 200 parts per million), as well as chromium, copper, lead, and vanadium, and (2) some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Persistent organochlorine pesticides, such as chlordane, dieldrin, DDT and its degradation products (DDD and DDE), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's), also were detected, but concentrations of these compounds were within the ranges often found in depositional environments in highly urbanized areas.

Cattail shoots attained a maximum height of 350 centimeters, a density of more than 30 shoots per square meter, and total biomass of more than 5,600 grams per square meter (46 percent of which was in above-ground tissues during the growing season). Nitrogen and potassium were three times more abundant in above-ground tissues (2.4 and 1.5 percent by dry weight, respectively) than in below-ground tissues (0.8 and 0.5 percent, respectively). Concentrations of phosphorus, molybdenum, and manganese in above-ground tissues were similar to those in below-ground tissues, but the concentrations of all other constituents were considerably higher in below-ground tissues. Concentrations of several elements exceeded those typically found in natural wetlands; these included manganese (417 ppm, parts per million) and sodium (3,600 ppm) in above-ground tissues, and aluminum (1,540 ppm), iron (15,400 ppm), manganese (433 ppm), and sodium (10,000 ppm) in below-ground tissues.

Large quantities of nutrients are assimilated by wetland vegetation during the growing season, but neither tissue production nor microbial metabolic processes appeared to play a significant role in the observed patterns of surface-water chemical input-to-output relations on a seasonal basis. Presumably, internal cycling of nutrients sequestered in the sediments and detritus, combined with a summer increase in microbially mediated chemical transformations, obscured the effects of vegetative assimilation during the summer on surface-water chemical loads. Additionally, the natural confinement of most flows within the banks of Irondequoit Creek, which resulted in passage of stormwater through the wetland with little dispersion or detention in the cattail and backwater areas, diminished the capability of the wetland to improve water quality. Additional factors that probably affected the chemical-removal efficiency of the wetland included chemical inflow loading rates, storage and release mechanisms of the sediments (sedimentation, adsorption, filtration, precipitaton, dissolution, and resuspension), and accretion and burial of organic matter.

Measurements of chlorophyll_a concentrations, and calculations of potential phosphorus concentrations, since the 1970’s indicate an improvement in the trophic state of Irondequoit Bay. Estimated average annual loads (1990-96) of selected constituents entering Irondequoit Bay indicate that, since 1980, the loads of all major forms of nitrogen have decreased, chloride loads have increased, and sulfate loads have changed little. Inputs of total phosphorus and suspended solids to the wetland have increased since 1980, possibly as a result of increased erosion by stormflows from an increasingly developed watershed. The wetland decreases the loads of these constituents, but the trends of these loads entering Irondequoit Bay cannot be reliably defined because the removal efficiencies during the two earlier study periods (1980–81 and 1984–88) are known.

Suggested Citation

Coon, W.F., Bernard, J.M., and Seischab, F.K., 2000, Effects of a cattail wetland on water quality of Irondequoit Creek near Rochester, New York: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 2000–4032, 74 p.,

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Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Effects of Wetland on Water Quality
  • Summary
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Effects of a Cattail Wetland on Water Quality of Irondequoit Creek near Rochester, New York
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
New York Water Science Center
vi, 74 p.
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