Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4208

Surface-Water Quality at Fixed Sites in the Western Lake Michigan Drainages, Wisconsin and Michigan, and the Effects of Natural and Human Factors, 1993-95

By Kevin D. Richards, Daniel J. Sullivan, and Jana S. Stewart


Streamwater samples were collected from April 1993 through July 1995 at 11 fixed sites in the Western Lake Michigan Drainages Study Unit of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Water samples were collected monthly at all Fixed Sites, and an additional two to four samples were collected each year during periods of high flow. Streamflow was monitored continuously at the Fixed Sites for the duration of the study period. This report describes field techniques used to collect the water samples, and the analytical methods used for laboratory analyses, statistical analyses of the data, and an attempt to determine the effect of natural and anthropogenic factors on concentrations of nutrients and selected major ions and suspended solids.

Locations of eight of the Fixed Sites were selected to represent areas with unique combinations of land use/land cover, surficial deposits, and bedrock geology and are referred to as "indicator sites." The remaining three sites were located near the mouths of major rivers and are referred to as "integrator sites." The integrator sites represent a large part of the total flow from the Study Unit to Green Bay and western Lake Michigan, and drain various combinations of land use, bedrock, and surficial deposits.

These data indicate that land use and surficial deposits may be the primary factors affecting nitrate and total phosphorus concentrations in this Study Unit. Median concentrations of nitrate at the forested sites were less than the National Median Concentration (NMC), and those at urban fixed sites were similar to the NMC. Median nitrate concentrations at the Tomorrow River, North Branch Milwaukee River, and Duck Creek agricultural indicator sites were twice the NMC, but median concentrations at the remaining agricultural indicator sites were similar to the NMC. Nitrate concentrations at one agricultural indicator site exceeded the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) maximum contaminant level in three run-off samples in the growing seasons of 1994 and 1995.

Median concentrations of total phosphorus at the forested indicator sites were below the NMC. Tomorrow River was the only agricultural indicator site where the median total-phosphorus concentration was less than the NMC; median concentrations at the remaining agricultural Fixed Sites were similar to the NMC and exceeded 0.1 mg/L, the USEPA suggested total-phosphorus concentration in flowing water. The USEPA recommends that total-phosphorus concentration not exceed this limit to discourage excessive aquatic plant growth in flowing waters. Median total-phosphorus concentration at the urban indicator site was less than the urban NMC.

Median concentrations for both nitrate and total phosphorus at the mouth of the Fox River and the Milwaukee River integrator sites were similar to the NMC for the dominant land use, agriculture, within their basins, and were lower than that at the Menominee River integrator site with a dominant forest land use.

During this study, potassium concentrations were generally highest in areas of clay-dominated surficial deposits, silica was generally highest in areas of sandy surficial deposits, iron generally highest in areas of igneous/metamorphic bedrock, and calcium generally highest in areas of carbonate bedrock. The highest median fluoride concentration occurred at an urban site that receives treated water.