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USGS Alaska Water Science Center Publication

Water-Quality Conditions of Chester Creek, Anchorage, Alaska, 1998 2001

By Roy L. Glass and Robert T. Ourso

Scientific Investigations Report 2006–5229

Prepared as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program


Between October 1998 and September 2001, the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment Program evaluated the water-quality conditions of Chester Creek, a stream draining forest and urban settings in Anchorage, Alaska. Data collection included water, streambed sediments, lakebed sediments, and aquatic organisms samples from urban sites along the stream. Urban land use ranged from less than 1 percent of the basin above the furthest upstream site to 46 percent above the most downstream site. Findings suggest that water quality of Chester Creek declines in the downstream direction and as urbanization in the watershed increases.

Water samples were collected monthly and during storms at a site near the stream’s mouth (Chester Creek at Arctic Boulevard) and analyzed for major ions and nutrients. Water samples collected during water year 1999 were analyzed for selected pesticides and volatile organic compounds. Concentrations of fecal-indicator bacteria were determined monthly during calendar year 2000. During winter, spring, and summer, four water samples were collected at a site upstream of urban development (South Branch of South Fork Chester Creek at Tank Trail) and five from an intermediate site (South Branch of South Fork Chester Creek at Boniface Parkway).

Concentrations of calcium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate in water increased in the downstream direction. Nitrate concentrations were similar at the three sites and all were less than the drinking-water standard. About one-quarter of the samples from the Arctic Boulevard site had concentrations of phosphorus that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) guideline for preventing nuisance plant growth. Water samples collected at the Arctic Boulevard site contained concentrations of the insecticide carbaryl that exceeded the guideline for protecting aquatic life. Every water sample revealed a low concentration of volatile organic compounds, including benzene, toluene, tetrachloroethylene, methyl tert-butyl ether, and chloroform. No water samples contained volatile organic compounds concentrations that exceeded any USEPA drinking-water standard or guideline. Fecal-indicator bacteria concentrations in water from the Arctic Boulevard site commonly exceeded Federal and State guidelines for water-contact recreation.

Concentrations of cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc in streambed sediments increased in the downstream direction. Some concentrations of arsenic, chromium, lead, and zinc in sediments were at levels that can adversely affect aquatic organisms. Analysis of sediment chemistry in successive lakebed-sediment layers from Westchester Lagoon near the stream’s mouth provided a record of water-quality trends since about 1970. Concentrations of lead have decreased from peak levels in the mid-1970s, most likely because of removing lead from gasoline and lower lead content in other products. However, concen-trations in recently-deposited lakebed sediments are still about 10 times greater than measured in streambed sediments at the upstream Tank Trail site. Zinc concentrations in lakebed sediments also increased in the early 1970s to levels that exceeded guidelines to protect aquatic life and have remained at elevated but variable levels. Pyrene, benz[a]anthracene, and phenanthrene in lakebed sediments also have varied in concentrations and have exceeded protection guidelines for aquatic life since the 1970s. Concentrations of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), or their by-products generally were highest in lakebed sediments deposited in the 1970s. More recent sediments have concentrations that vary widely and do not show distinct temporal trends.

Tissue samples of whole slimy sculpin (Cottus cognatus), a non-migratory species of fish, showed con-centrations of trace elements and organic contaminants. Of the constituents analyzed, only selenium concentra-tions showed levels of potential concern for protection of fish-eating wildlife and are most likely because of natural geologic sources. Although detected in sculpin, the total PCB concentration was less than the protection guideline for fish-eating wildlife.

The relative abundance of algae that are tolerant of increased salinity increased from the headwaters to the mouth, as did dissolved minerals in water. Pollution-sensi-tive benthic macroinvertebrate taxa decreased and domi-nance of pollution-tolerant worms increased in the down-stream direction, indicating water-quality degradation.




Description of the Study Area

Data Collection and Analysis



Fish Tissue

Aquatic Communities

Water-Quality Characteristics


Field measurements

Inorganic Constituents

Fecal-indicator Bacteria

Organic Constituents


Volatile Organic Compounds

Semivolatile Organic Compounds

Chemical Analyses of Streambed and Lakebed Sediments

Trace elements

Semivolatile Organic Compounds

Organochlorine Pesticides and Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Chemical Analyses of Fish Tissues

Trace elements

Organochlorine Pesticides and Polychlorinated Biphenyls

Ecological Characteristics

Physical environment


Benthic macroinvertebrates


Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Suggested Citation:

Glass, Roy L., and Ourso, Robert T., 2006, Water-Quality Conditions of Chester Creek, Anchorage, Alaska, 1998–2001; U.S. Geological Survey, Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5229.

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For more information about USGS activities in Alaska, visit the USGS Alaska Water Science Center home page.

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