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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5248

Prepared in cooperation with Johnson County Wastewater

Effects of Wastewater Effluent Discharge and Treatment Facility Upgrades on Environmental and Biological Conditions of the Upper Blue River, Johnson County, Kansas and Jackson County, Missouri, January 2003 through March 2009

By Jennifer L. Graham1, Mandy L. Stone1, Teresa J. Rasmussen1, and Barry C. Poulton2

1U.S. Geological Survey, Kansas Water Science Center, Lawrence, Kansas.
2U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center, Columbia, Missouri.
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Abstract

The Johnson County Blue River Main Wastewater Treatment Facility discharges into the upper Blue River near the border between Johnson County, Kansas and Jackson County, Missouri. During 2005 through 2007 the wastewater treatment facility underwent upgrades to increase capacity and include biological nutrient removal. The effects of wastewater effluent on environmental and biological conditions of the upper Blue River were assessed by comparing an upstream site to two sites located downstream from the wastewater treatment facility. Environmental conditions were evaluated using previously and newly collected discrete and continuous data, and were compared with an assessment of biological community composition and ecosystem function along the upstream-downstream gradient. This evaluation is useful for understanding the potential effects of wastewater effluent on water quality, biological community structure, and ecosystem function. In addition, this information can be used to help achieve National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater effluent permit requirements after additional studies are conducted.

The effects of wastewater effluent on the water-quality conditions of the upper Blue River were most evident during below-normal and normal streamflows (about 75 percent of the time), when wastewater effluent contributed more than 20 percent to total streamflow. The largest difference in water-quality conditions between the upstream and downstream sites was in nutrient concentrations. Total and inorganic nutrient concentrations at the downstream sites during below-normal and normal streamflows were 4 to 15 times larger than at the upstream site, even after upgrades to the wastewater treatment facility were completed. However, total nitrogen concentrations decreased in wastewater effluent and at the downstream site following wastewater treatment facility upgrades. Similar decreases in total phosphorus were not observed, likely because the biological phosphorus removal process was not optimized until after the study was completed.

Total nitrogen and phosphorus from the wastewater treatment facility contributed a relatively small percentage (14 to 15 percent) to the annual nutrient load in the upper Blue River, but contributed substantially (as much as 75 percent) to monthly loads during seasonal low-flows in winter and summer. During 2007 and 2008, annual discharge from the wastewater treatment facility was about one-half maximum capacity, and estimated potential maximum annual loads were 1.6 to 2.4 times greater than annual loads before capacity upgrades. Even when target nutrient concentrations are met, annual nutrient loads will increase when the wastewater treatment facility is operated at full capacity. Regardless of changes in annual nutrient loads, the reduction of nutrient concentrations in the Blue River Main wastewater effluent will help prevent further degradation of the upper Blue River.

The Blue River Main Wastewater Treatment Facility wastewater effluent caused changes in concentrations of several water-quality constituents that may affect biological community structure and function including larger concentrations of bioavailable nutrients (nitrate and orthophosphorus) and smaller turbidities. Streambed-sediment conditions were similar along the upstream-downstream gradient and measured constituents did not exceed probable effect concentrations. Habitat conditions declined along the upstream-downstream gradient, largely because of decreased canopy cover and riparian buffer width and increased riffle-substrate fouling. Algal biomass, primary production, and the abundance of nutrient-tolerant diatoms substantially increased downstream from the wastewater treatment facility. Likewise, the abundance of intolerant macroinvertebrate taxa and Kansas Department of Health and Environment aquatic-life-support scores, derived from macroinvertebrate data, significantly decreased downstream from the wastewater treatment facility. Ecosystem functional health, evaluated using a preliminary framework based on primary production and community respiration, downstream from the wastewater treatment facility was mildly impaired relative to the upstream site during summer 2008 but not during other times of the year.

Upgrades to the Blue River Main Wastewater Treatment Facility improved wastewater effluent quality, but the wastewater effluent discharge still had negative effects on the water quality and biological conditions at the downstream sites. Wastewater effluent discharge into the upper Blue River likely contributed to changes in measures of ecosystem structure (streamflow, water chemistry, algal biomass, algal periphyton and macroinvertebrate community composition) and primary production, a measure of ecosystem function, along the upstream-downstream gradient. Because the Blue River Main Wastewater Treatment Facility is located in a rapidly urbanizing area, urbanization effects also may play a role in the decline in environmental and biological conditions along the upstream-downstream gradient. Despite these differences in environmental and biological conditions, ecosystem functional health was not impaired downstream from the WWTF during most times of the year, indicating the declines in environmental and biological conditions along the upstream-downstream gradient were not substantial enough to cause persistent changes in ecosystem function.

First posted January 4, 2011

For additional information contact:
Director, Kansas Water Science Center
4821 Quail Crest Place
Lawrence, KS 66049
(785) 842–9909
http://ks.water.usgs.gov

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Suggested citation:

Graham, J.L., Stone, M.L., Rasmussen, T.J., and Poulton, B.C., 2010, Effects of wastewater effluent discharge and treatment facility upgrades on environmental and biological conditions of the upper Blue River, Johnson County, Kansas and Jackson County, Missouri, January 2003 through March 2009: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5248, 85 p.



Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Acknowledgments

Description of Study Area

Previous Investigations

Methods

Environmental Conditions of the Upper Blue River

Biological Conditions of the Upper Blue River

Effects of Wastewater Effluent Discharge on Environmental and Biological

Conditions of the Upper Blue River

Summary

References Cited

Appendixes


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