Water Quality in the New England Coastal Basins

Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, 19992001


U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1226


By Keith W. Robinson, Sarah M. Flanagan, Joseph D. Ayotte, Kimberly W. Campo, Ann Chalmers, James F. Coles, and Thomas F. Cuffney


This circular is available as a pdf.


This report contains the major findings of a 1999–2001 assessment of water quality in the New England Coastal Basins. It is one of a series of reports by the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program that present major findings in 51 major river basins and aquifer systems across the Nation.


In these reports, water quality is discussed in terms of local, State, and regional issues. Conditions in a particular basin or aquifer system are compared to conditions found elsewhere and to selected national benchmarks, such as those for drinking-water quality and the protection of aquatic organisms.


This report is intended for individuals working with water-resource issues in Federal, State, or local agencies, universities, public interest groups, or in the private sector. The information will be useful in addressing a number of current issues, such as the effects of agricultural and urban land use on water quality, human health, drinking water, source-water protection, hypoxia and excessive growth of algae and plants, pesticide registration, and monitoring and sampling strategies. This report is also for individuals who wish to know more about the quality of streams and ground water in areas near where they live and how that water quality compares to the quality of water in other areas across the Nation.


The water-quality conditions in the New England Coastal Basins summarized in this report are discussed in detail in other reports that can be accessed from Detailed technical information, data and analyses, collection and analytical methodology, models, graphs, and maps that support the findings presented in this report in addition to reports in this series from other basins can be accessed from the national NAWQA Web site (


National Water-Quality Assessment Program

What kind of water-quality information does the NAWQA Program provide?

Introduction to this Report

Summary of Major Findings

Stream and River Highlights

Ground-Water Highlights

Introduction to the New England Coastal Basins

Environmental Setting

Hydrologic Conditions

Water Use

Effects of Population Growth and Urbanization on Water Quality

Major Findings

Urbanization Results in Significant Degradation of Stream Ecosystems

REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE—Stream Quality Degrades as Urbanization Increases in
Four Major Metropolitan Areas

Many Trace Elements and Organic Contaminants were Detected in Streambed Sediments

Cores Reveal 50 Years of Elevated PAHs in Streambed Sediments of the Charles River

Organochlorine Compounds in Fish May Pose a Threat to Fish-Eating Wildlife

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE—Concentrations of Lead, PCBs, DDT, and PAHs in Streambed Sediments were the Highest in the Nation

Mercury Contamination is Widespread in Streambed Sediments and Fish Tissue

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE—Coastal Ecosystems in the Eastern United States are Highly Susceptible to Mercury Contamination

VOCs were Detected Frequently in Rivers and Ground Water

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE—VOCs are Detected More Frequently in the New England Coastal Basins than in the Rest of the Nation

Pesticides were Detected Frequently in Streams but Rarely in Ground Water

Nitrogen and Phosphorus Concentrations in Streams are Related to Urbanization

Drinking-Water Standard for Nitrate Rarely Exceeded in Ground Water

Arsenic is Common in New England Ground Water

Radon Exceeded Proposed Standards in Most Ground Water

NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE—Arsenic is Common in Ground Water Throughout the Nation

Study Unit Design

Ground-Water Chemistry

Stream Chemistry and Aquatic Ecology

References Cited


Appendix—Water-Quality Data from the New England Coastal Basins in a National Context

Points of Contact and Additional Information


The companion Web site for NAWQA summary reports:


New England Coastal Basins Study Unit contact and Web site:

USGS State Representative

U.S. Geological Survey

Water Resources Division

361 Commerce Way

Pembroke, NH 03275



National NAWQA Program:

Chief, NAWQA Program
U.S. Geological Survey
Water Resources Discipline
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, M.S. 413
Reston, VA 20192


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U.S. Geological Survey,

Information Services
Box 25286, Denver Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225


For more information about the USGS and its products:

Telephone: 1-888-ASK-USGS
World Wide Web:


The text and graphics are presented here in pdf format (print quality). The full report is 21.5MB.


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