In 1986, the U.S. Geological Survey began a National Water-Quality Assessment program to (1) provide nationally consistent descriptions of the current status of water quality for a large, diverse, and geographically distributed part of the Nation's surface- and ground-water resources; (2) define, where possible, trends in water quality; and (3) identify and describe the relations of both status and trends in water quality to natural factors and the history of land use and land- and waste-management activities. The program is presently in a pilot phase that will test and modify, as necessary, concepts and approaches in preparation for possible full implementation of the program in the future.
The upper Illinois River basin is one of four basins selected to test the concepts and approaches of the surface-water-quality element of the national program. The basin drains 10,949 square miles of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Three principal tributaries are the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers that join to form the Illinois River and the Fox River. Land use is predominantly agricultural; about 75 percent of the basin is cultivated primarily for production of corn and soybeans. About 13 percent of the basin is urban area, most of which is located in the Chicago metropolitan area. The population of the basin is about 7 million. About 6 million people live in the Des Plaines River basin.
Many water-quality issues in the upper Illinois River basin are related to sediment, nutrients, potentially toxic inorganic and organic constituents, and to water-management practices. Occurrence of sediment and the chemical constituents in the rivers and lakes within the basin has the potential to adversely affect the water's suitability for aquatic life, recreation, or, through the consumption of fish, human health.
The upper Illinois River basin project consists of five major activities. The first activity--analysis of existing information and preparation of a report that describes recent water-quality conditions and trends--is currently underway. The second activity--fixed-station water-quality sampling at eight stations--began in April 1987 and will last at least 3 years. Water-quality data collected at these stations will be used to determine the frequency of occurrence of constituent concentrations, their annual and seasonal loads, and time trends in concentrations for a selected number of constituents. The third activity will be synoptic water-quality studies. Each study will involve sampling many sites at specific flow conditions and for selected water-quality constituents. Information gained from these studies will supplement informa tion gained from fixed-station sampling. A synoptic study of streambed sediments is tentatively planned for the summer of 1987 to describe the occurrence and distribution of trace elements in the basin. The fourth activity will consist of one or more topical subbasin or river-reach studies. The purpose of such studies is to better define certain water-quality conditions in specific areas and gain an understanding of the processes affecting the observed conditions. The fifth activity is the preparation of reports that will describe results from each of the first four activities.
Quality assurance and coordination are being provided at both the national and pilot-project levels. A technical quality-assurance plan that addresses all aspects of sample collection, analysis, and reporting is being prepared at the national level. This plan will be appended as needed at the pilot-project level. A National Coordinating Work Group that functions under the auspices of the Interagency Advisory Committee on Water Data and the Advisory Committee on Water Data for Public Use has been established at the national level. A local liaison committee consisting of representatives from Federal, State, and local agencies has been established to enhance communication and to ensure that the scientific information produced by the