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Kansas Water Science Center

Prepared in cooperation with the Johnson County Stormwater Management Program

Effects of Nonpoint and Selected Point Contaminant Sources on Stream-Water Quality and Relation to Land Use in Johnson County, Northeastern Kansas, October 2002 Through June 2004

U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5144

By Casey J. Lee, D.P. Mau, and T.J. Rasmussen

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Water and sediment samples were collected by the U.S. Geological Survey in 12 watersheds in Johnson County, northeastern Kansas, to determine the effects of nonpoint and selected point contaminant sources on stream-water quality and their relation to varying land use. The streams studied were located in urban areas of the county (Brush, Dykes Branch, Indian, Tomahawk, and Turkey Creeks), developing areas of the county (Blue River and Mill Creek), and in more rural areas of the county (Big Bull, Captain, Cedar, Kill, and Little Bull Creeks). Two base-flow synoptic surveys (73 total samples) were conducted in 11 watersheds, a minimum of three stormflow samples were collected in each of six watersheds, and 15 streambed-sediment sites were sampled in nine watersheds from October 2002 through June 2004.

Discharge from seven wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs) were sampled during base-flow synoptic surveys. Discharge from these facilities comprised greater than 50 percent of streamflow at the farthest downstream sampling site in six of the seven watersheds during base-flow conditions. Nutrients, organic wastewater-indicator compounds, and prescription and nonprescription pharmaceutical compounds generally were found in the largest concentrations during base-flow conditions at sites at, or immediately downstream from, point-source discharges from WWTFs. Downstream from WWTF discharges streamflow conditions were generally stable, whereas nutrient and wastewater-indicator compound concentrations decreased in samples from sites farther downstream. During base-flow conditions, sites upstream from WWTF discharges had significantly larger fecal coliform and Escherichia coli densities than downstream sites. Stormflow samples had the largest suspended-sediment concentrations and indicator bacteria densities. Other than in samples from sites in proximity to WWTF discharges, stormflow samples generally had the largest nutrient concentrations in Johnson County streams.

Discharge from WWTFs with trickling-filter secondary treatment processes had the largest concentrations of many potential contaminants during base-flow conditions. Samples from two of three trickling-filter WWTFs exceeded Kansas Department of Health and Environment pH- and temperature-dependent chronic aquatic-life criteria for ammonia when early-life stages of fish are present. Discharge from trickling-filter facilities generally had the most detections and largest concentrations of many organic wastewater-indicator compounds in Johnson County stream-water samples. Caffeine (stimulant), nonylphenol-diethoxylate (detergent surfactant), and tris(2-butoxyethyl) phosphate (floor polish, flame retardant, and plasticizer) were found at concentrations larger than maximum concentrations in comparable studies.

Land use and seasonality affected the occurrence and magnitude of many potential water-quality contaminants originating from nonpoint sources. Base-flow samples from urban sites located upstream from WWTF discharges had larger indicator bacteria densities and wastewater-indicator compound concentrations than did base-flow samples from sites in nonurban areas. Dissolved-solids concentrations were the largest in winter stormflow samples from urban sites and likely were due to runoff from road-salt application. One sample from an urban watershed had a chloride concentration of 1,000 milligrams per liter, which exceeded the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s acute aquatic-life use criterion (860 milligrams per liter) likely due to effects from road-salt application. Pesticide concentrations were the largest in spring stormflow samples collected in nonurban watersheds. Although most wastewater-indicator compounds were found at the largest concentrations in samples from WWTF discharges, the compounds 9–10, anthraquinone (bird repellent), caffeine (stimulant), carbazole (component of coal tar, petroleum products), nonylphenol-diethoxylate (detergent surfactant), and tris(2-butoxyethyl) phosphate (flame retardant and plasticizer) also were detected in larger than microgram-per-liter concentrations in stormflow samples primarily from sites downstream from urban watersheds.

The effects of point contaminant sources and varying land use also were observable in streambed-sediment samples. Nutrients, silver, and many wastewater-indicator and prescription and nonprescription pharmaceutical compounds had the largest concentrations in streambed-sediment samples collected immediately downstream from WWTF discharges. Trace elements, total chlordane, total dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and selected wastewater-indicator compounds were not as linked to WWTF discharges and had the largest concentrations in streambed-sediment samples from watersheds with primarily urban land uses. Information provided in this report can be used by Johnson County officials to help define current (2005) water-quality conditions and to identify source areas of water-quality contamination.




Purpose and Scope


Description of Study Area

Previous Investigations


Base-Flow Samples

Stormflow Samples

Streambed-Sediment Samples

Sample Analysis

Statistical Analyses

Calculation of Loads

Quality of Assurance and Quality Control

Surface Water

Streambed Sediment

Hydrologic Conditions



Stream-Water-Quality Conditions

Suspended Sediment

Dissolved Solids and Major Ions






Wastewater-Indicator Compounds

Detergent Metabolites

Flame Retardants and Plasticizers



Insecticides/Bird Repellent/Petroleum Compounds

Sterols and Stanols

Pharmaceutical Compounds

Streambed-Sediment Quality

Total Organic Carbon and Nutrients

Trace Elements



Wastewater-Indicator Compounds


Detergent Metabolites and Phenols


Sterols and Stanols

Other Compounds

Pharmaceutical Compounds

Summary of Stream-Water and Streambed-Sediment-Quality Data by Watershed

Big Bull Creek Watershed

Blue River Watershed

Brush Creek Watershed

Captain Creek Watershed

Cedar Creek Watershed

Dykes Branch Watershed

Indian and Tomahawk Creek Watersheds

Kill Creek Watershed

Little Bull Creek Watershed

Mill Creek Watershed

Turkey Creek Watershed

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Lee, C.J., Mau, D.P., Rasmussen, T.J., 2005, Effects of nonpoint and selected point contaminant sources on stream-water quality and relation to land use in Johnson county, northeastern Kansas, October 2002 through June 2004: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5144, 104 p.

Report Availability

A limited number of printed copies of the full report are available free from:

U.S. Geological Survey
Kansas Water Science Center
4821 Quail Crest Place
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: 785-842-9909

Printed reports also are available for a nominal fee from:

U.S. Geological Survey
Information Services
P.O. Box 25286
Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225
Phone: 1-888-ASK-USGS

NOTE: When ordering the report, please supply the report title and number, your name, and your mailing address. Thank you.

For more information about USGS water quality studies in Johnson County, Kansas, contact:

Teresa Rasmussen
U.S. Geological Survey
Kansas Water Science Center
4821 Quail Crest Place
Lawrence, KS 66049-3839
Telephone: (785) 832-3576
Fax: (785) 832-3500

For more information about USGS water resources studies in Kansas, visit the USGS Kansas Water Science Center home page:


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