Effects of land use on the water quality and biota of three streams in the Piedmont province of North Carolina

Water-Resources Investigations Report 89-4007




Three small streams in North Carolina 's northern Piedmont were studied to compare the effects of land use in their watersheds on water quality characteristics and aquatic biota. Devil 's Cradle Creek (agricultural watershed) had more than two times the sediment yield of Smith Creek (forested watershed) (0.34 tons/acre compared to 0.13 tons/acre), and Marsh Creek (urban watershed) had more than four times the yield of Smith Creek (0.59 tons/acre). Concentrations of nutrients were consistently highest in Devil 's Craddle Creek. Concentrations of total copper, iron, and lead in samples from each of the three streams at times exceeded State water quality standards as did concentrations of total zinc in samples from both Smith and Marsh Creeks. Successively lower aquatic invertebrate taxa richness was found in the forested, the agricultural, and the urban watershed streams. Invertebrate biota in Smith Creek was dominated by insects, such as Ephemeroptera, that are intolerant to stress from pollution, whereas Devil 's Cradle Creek was dominated by the more tolerant Diptera, and Marsh Creek was dominated by the most pollution-tolerant group, the Oligochaeta. Fish communities in the forested and agricultural watershed streams were characterized by more species and more individuals of each species, relative to a limited community in urban Marsh Creek. Three independent variables closely linked to land use--suspended-sediment yield, suspended-sediment load, and total lead concentrations in stream water--are inversely associated with the biological communities of the streams.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Effects of land use on the water quality and biota of three streams in the Piedmont province of North Carolina
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey ; Copies may be purchased from Books and Open-File Reports, U.S. Geological Survey,
Contributing office(s):
South Atlantic Water Science Center
vi, 67 p. :ill., map ;28 cm.
United States
North Carolina
Other Geospatial:
Piedmont Province, Smith Creek