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Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5235

Prepared in cooperation with the Johnson County Stormwater Management Program

Quality of Streams in Johnson County, Kansas, and Relations to Environmental Variables, 2003–07

By Teresa J. Rasmussen, Barry C. Poulton, and Jennifer L. Graham

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The quality of streams and relations to environmental variables in Johnson County, northeastern Kansas, were evaluated using water, streambed sediment, land use, streamflow, habitat, algal periphyton (benthic algae), and benthic macroinvertebrate data. Water, streambed sediment, and macroinvertebrate samples were collected in March 2007 during base flow at 20 stream sites that represent 11 different watersheds in the county. In addition, algal periphyton samples were collected twice (spring and summer 2007) at one-half of the sites. Environmental data including water and streambed-sediment chemistry data (primarily nutrients, fecal-indicator bacteria, and organic wastewater compounds), land use, streamflow, and habitat data were used in statistical analyses to evaluate relations between biological conditions and variables that may affect them. This report includes an evaluation of water and streambed-sediment chemistry, assessment of habitat conditions, comparison of biological community attributes (such as composition, diversity, and abundance) among sampling sites, placement of sampling sites into impairment categories, evaluation of biological data relative to environmental variables, and evaluation of changes in biological communities and effects of urbanization. This evaluation is useful for understanding factors that affect stream quality, for improving water-quality management programs, and for documenting changing conditions over time. The information will become increasingly important for protecting streams in the future as urbanization continues.

Results of this study indicate that the biological quality at nearly all biological sampling sites in Johnson County has some level of impairment. Periphyton taxa generally were indicative of somewhat degraded conditions with small to moderate amounts of organic enrichment. Camp Branch in the Blue River watershed was the only site that met State criteria for full support of aquatic life in 2007. Since 2003, biological quality improved at one rural sampling site, possibly because of changes in wastewater affecting the site, and declined at three urban sites possibly because of the combined effects of ongoing development. Rural streams in the western and southern parts of the county, with land-use conditions similar to those found at the State reference site (Captain Creek), continue to support some organisms normally associated with healthy streams.

Several environmental factors contribute to biological indicators of stream quality. The primary factor explaining biological quality at sites in Johnson County was the amount of urbanization upstream in the watershed. Specific conductance of stream water, which is a measure of dissolved solids in water and is determined primarily by the amount of groundwater contributing to streamflow, the amount of urbanization, and discharges from wastewater and industrial sites, was strongly negatively correlated with biological stream quality as indicated by macroinvertebrate metrics. Concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in streambed sediment also was negatively correlated with biological stream quality. Individual habitat variables that most commonly were positively correlated with biological indicators included stream sinuosity, buffer length, and substrate cover diversity. Riffle substrate embeddedness and sediment deposition commonly were negatively correlated with favorable metric scores. Statistical analysis indicated that specific conductance, impervious surface area (a measure of urbanization), and stream sinuosity explained 85 percent of the variance in macroinvertebrate communities.

Management practices affecting environmental variables that appear to be most important for Johnson County streams include protection of stream corridors, measures that reduce the effects of impervious surfaces associated with urbanization, reduction of dissolved solids in stream water, reduction of PAHs entering streams and accumulating in streambed sediment, improvement of buffer conditions particularly related to buffer continuity, and improvement of streambed substrate conditions by reducing sediment loads to streams. Because of the complexity of urban stream systems and connectivity of various factors affecting stream quality, improvement in any single environmental variable may not result in immediate measurable improvements in stream quality.

Posted December 10, 2009

For additional information contact:
Director, USGS Kansas Water Science Center
4821 Quail Crest Place
Lawrence, KS
Phone: (785) 842–9909

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Rasmussen, T.J., Poulton, B.C., and Graham, J.L., 2009, Quality of streams in Johnson County, Kansas, and relations to environmental variables, 2003–07: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009–5235, 84p. with appendices.





Assessment of Stream Quality


References Cited


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