Water-quality and physical characteristics of streams in the Treyburn development area of Falls Lake watershed, North Carolina, 1994–98

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002-4046

Prepared in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality
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Treyburn is a 5,400-acre planned, mixed-use development in the upper Neuse River Basin of North Carolina. The development, which began in 1986, is located in the Falls Lake watershed near three water-supply reservoirs-Lake Michie to the north, Falls Lake to the southeast, and Little River Reservoir to the west. A study began in 1988 to determine the water-quality characteristics of surface waters in and around the Treyburn development area.

Data to characterize water quality at five different sites were collected from July 1994 through September 1998. Data from a previous study are available for some sites for the period 1988–93. The sites were selected to characterize water quality and quantity in and near the Treyburn development and included an undeveloped basin, a relatively small basin containing single-family residences and a golf course, a basin downstream from the western part of the development with some industrial land use, and two basins unaffected by the development where agricultural land is being converted to urban and forested land use.

Suspended-sediment concentrations ranged from less than 1 to 581 milligrams per liter and were fairly uniform among the five sites. Median suspended-sediment concentrations ranged from 12 to 21 milligrams per liter. Few concentrations of metals and trace elements, except aluminum, iron, and manganese, exceeded the laboratory reporting levels or water-quality criteria. At one site, concentrations of silver exceeded both the action level and the reporting level; copper was detected at each site and exceeded the action level of 7 micrograms per liter at one site.

The lowest range and median concentrations of total organic nitrogen, nitrate, ammonia, total phosphorus, and orthophosphorus occurred in the relatively undisturbed, forested site. The maximum concentration of organic nitrogen (1.97 milligrams per liter) occurred at one of the sites unaffected by the Treyburn development where agricultural land is being converted to urban land use. At all sites, ammonia concentrations ranged from less than 0.02 to 0.36 milligram per liter, and median concentrations were near the reporting level. Nitrate concentrations ranged from less than 0.05 to 0.80 milligram per liter.

Phosphorus concentrations at all of the Treyburn study sites were low compared to phosphorus concentrations that typically exceed 0.1 milligram per liter at sites sampled nationally for the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program, including the Albemarle-Pamlico study area in North Carolina. Total phosphorus concentrations ranged from less than 0.01 to 0.87 milligram per liter, and orthophosphorus concentrations ranged from less than 0.01 to 0.76 milligram per liter as phosphorus. The maximum concentrations of total phosphorus and orthophosphorus occurred at the Treyburn residential and golf-course site, likely as a result of the fertilizer applications associated with these two types of land use.

Of the 119 different pesticides tested, 11 were detected in concentrations that exceeded the laboratory reporting levels, though in very low concentrations. Water samples from the residential and golf-course site contained the greatest number of pesticides (10). Five of six samples collected at this site had detectable concentrations of simazine, atrazine, and pendimethalin-all herbicides used to control weeds in crops or turf.

Channel geometry was assessed at eight sites in the study area in February 1997. These sites were separated into three groups based on mean bank angle and mean channel width-to-depth ratios. Channel gradient ranged from 0.04 to 1.63 percent, and mean cross sectional area ranged from 31 to 1,227 square feet.

Three macroinvertebrate samples were collected from each of 10 sites. These three samples were from areas designated as richest targeted habitats, depositional targeted habitats, and qualitative multitargeted habitats. Over 230 taxa were identified fromthese 10 sites. The North Carolina Biotic Indices ranged from 4.98 (excellent) to 6.82 (fair). River sites tended to have higher total taxa richness (91-108) than did the small, intermittent streams (49–84) or the midsize Mountain Creek (85). Intermittent streams represent fairly hostile environments for most aquatic organisms. Samples from richest targeted habitats typically were more than twice as rich as samples from depositional targeted habitats and represented from 50 to 75 percent of the taxa found at each site (mean of 62 percent). The industrial site lacked many of the mayfly taxa that were present at the undeveloped site. Mayflies are very sensitive to metals contamination, and their absence may indicate a possible problem. The supporting chemical information is not available for the industrial site, and additional study would be necessary to substantiate this possibility. The two sites with residential and golf-course land use tended to support more different types of sensitive invertebrates (that is, mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis flies) than did the forested/residential site, though the abundances of these taxa were very similar. Land-use effects were not evident based on a comparison among these sites.

Indirect gradient analysis was used to determine patterns in the distribution of invertebrates and to examine the relations between these patterns and physical and chemical site characteristics determined in this study. This analysis supports the contention that the dominant factors accounting for the distribution of benthic invertebrates are associated with natural factors, such as basin size, rather than land use.

Constituent loads at five study sites were calculated for nutrients, suspended sediment, and total organic carbon. The median annual total nitrogen yield ranged from 0.635 to 1.63 tons per square mile. The median annual phosphorus yield ranged from 0.046 to 0.619 ton per square mile, and the median annual orthophosphate yield ranged from 0.022 to 0.379 ton per square mile. Orthophosphate accounted for more than half of the phosphorus yield at the residential and golf-course site.

The maximum suspended-sediment yield was 422 tons per square mile, and the minimum yield was 32 tons per square mile. The suspended-sediment yield at one of the sites unaffected by the Treyburn development where agricultural was being converted to urban land use was high compared to other forested basins in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

Total organic carbon data sufficient for estimating loads were available at three of the five sites. Of these three sites, the undeveloped site had substantially more organic carbon yield than the other two sites.

The only significant water-quality trend (alpha=0.05) was a downward trend for total nitrogen and organic nitrogen at the undeveloped site. The trend slope was small, only 0.019 milligram per liter as nitrogen or less than 9 percent of the median organic nitrogen concentration. No trend was observed for nitrite plus nitrate or for ammonia, indicating that the downward trend in total nitrogen was due only to organic nitrogen.

Suggested Citation

Oblinger, C.J., Cuffney, T.F., Meador, M.R., and Garrett, R.G., 2002, Water-quality and physical characteristics of streams in the Treyburn development area of Falls Lake watershed, North Carolina, 1994–98: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 2002–4046, 80 p.,

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Data collection
  • Streamflow conditions
  • Stream physical characteristics
  • Water-quality conditions
  • Transport of suspended sediment, nutrients, and total organic carbon
  • Water-quality trends
  • Summary
  • References
  • Appendix

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water-quality and physical characteristics of streams in the Treyburn development area of Falls Lake watershed, North Carolina, 1994–98
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
80 p.
United States
North Carolina
Other Geospatial:
Upper Neuse River Basin