Skip Links

USGS - science for a changing world

Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5187

Prepared in cooperation with Johnson County Wastewater

Effects of Wastewater Effluent Discharge and Treatment Facility Upgrades on Environmental and Biological Conditions of Indian Creek, Johnson County, Kansas, June 2004 through June 2013

By Jennifer L. Graham, Mandy L. Stone, Teresa J. Rasmussen, Guy M. Foster, Barry C. Poulton, Chelsea R. Paxson, and Theodore D. Harris

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (4.22 MB)Abstract

Indian Creek is one of the most urban drainage basins in Johnson County, Kansas, and environmental and biological conditions of the creek are affected by contaminants from point and other urban sources. The Johnson County Douglas L. Smith Middle Basin (hereafter referred to as the “Middle Basin”) and Tomahawk Creek Wastewater Treatment Facilities (WWTFs) discharge to Indian Creek. In summer 2010, upgrades were completed to increase capacity and include biological nutrient removal at the Middle Basin facility. There have been no recent infrastructure changes at the Tomahawk Creek facility; however, during 2009, chemically enhanced primary treatment was added to the treatment process for better process settling before disinfection and discharge with the added effect of enhanced phosphorus removal. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with Johnson County Wastewater, assessed the effects of wastewater effluent on environmental and biological conditions of Indian Creek by comparing two upstream sites to four sites located downstream from the WWTFs using data collected during June 2004 through June 2013. 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 study improves the understanding of the effects of wastewater effluent on stream-water and streambed sediment quality, biological community composition, and ecosystem function in urban areas.

After the addition of biological nutrient removal to the Middle Basin WWTF in 2010, annual mean total nitrogen concentrations in effluent decreased by 46 percent, but still exceeded the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater effluent permit concentration goal of 8.0 milligrams per liter (mg/L); however, the NPDES wastewater effluent permit total phosphorus concentration goal of 1.5 mg/L or less was achieved at the Middle Basin WWTF. At the Tomahawk Creek WWTF, after the addition of chemically enhanced primary treatment in 2009, effluent discharges also had total phosphorus concentrations below 1.5 mg/L. After the addition of biological nutrient removal, annual total nitrogen and phosphorus loads from the Middle Basin WWTF decreased by 42 and 54 percent, respectively, even though effluent volume increased by 11 percent. Annual total phosphorus loads from the Tomahawk Creek WWTF after the addition of chemically enhanced primary treatment decreased by 54 percent despite a 33-percent increase in effluent volume.

Total nitrogen and phosphorus from the WWTFs contributed between 30 and nearly 100 percent to annual nutrient loads in Indian Creek depending on streamflow conditions. In-stream total nitrogen primarily came from wastewater effluent except during years with the highest streamflows. Most of the in-stream total phosphorus typically came from effluent during dry years and from other urban sources during wet years. During 2010 through 2013, annual mean discharge from the Middle Basin WWTF was about 75 percent of permitted design capacity. Annual nutrient loads likely will increase when the facility is operated at permitted design capacity; however, estimated maximum annual nutrient loads from the Middle Basin WWTF were 27 to 38 percent lower than before capacity upgrades and the addition of biological nutrient removal to treatment processes. Thus, the addition of biological nutrient removal to the Middle Basin wastewater treatment process should reduce overall nutrient loads from the facility even when the facility is operated at permitted design capacity.

The effects of wastewater effluent on the water quality of Indian Creek were most evident during below-normal and normal streamflows (about 75 percent of the time) when wastewater effluent represented about 24 percent or more of total streamflow. Wastewater effluent had the most substantial effect on nutrient concentrations in Indian Creek. Total and inorganic nutrient concentrations at the downstream sites during below-normal and normal streamflows were 10 to 100 times higher than at the upstream sites, even after changes in treatment practices at the WWTFs. Median total phosphorus concentrations during below-normal and normal streamflows at a downstream site were 43 percent lower following improvements in wastewater treatment processes. Similar decreases in total nitrogen were not observed, likely because total nitrogen concentrations only decreased in Middle Basin effluent and wastewater contributed a higher percentage to streamflows when nutrient samples were collected during the after-upgrade period.

The wastewater effluent discharges to Indian Creek caused changes in stream-water quality that may affect biological community structure and ecosystem processes, including higher concentrations of bioavailable nutrients (nitrate and orthophosphorus) and warmer water temperatures during winter months. Other urban sources of contaminants also caused changes in stream-water quality that may affect biological community structure and ecosystem processes, including higher turbidities downstream from construction areas and higher specific conductance and chloride concentrations during winter months. Chloride concentrations exceeded acute and chronic exposure criteria at all Indian Creek study sites, regardless of wastewater influence, for weeks or months during winter. Streambed sediment chemistry was affected by wastewater (elevated nutrient and organic wastewater-indicator compound concentrations) and other contaminants from urban sources (elevated polyaromatic hydrocarbon concentrations). Overall habitat conditions were suboptimal or marginal at all sites; general decline in habitat conditions along the upstream-downstream gradient likely was caused by the cumulative effects of urbanization with increasing drainage basin size.

Wastewater effluent likely affected algal periphyton biomass and community composition, primary production, and community respiration in Indian Creek. Functional stream health, evaluated using a preliminary framework based on primary production and community respiration, was mildly or severely impaired at most downstream sites relative to an urban upstream Indian Creek site. The mechanistic cause of the changes in these biological variables are unclear, though elevated nutrient concentrations were positively correlated with algal biomass, primary production, and community respiration. Macroinvertebrate communities indicated impairment at all sites, and Kansas Department of Health and Environment aquatic life support scores indicated conditions nonsupporting of aquatic life, regardless of wastewater influences. Urban influences, other than wastewater effluent discharge, likely control macroinvertebrate community structure in Indian Creek.

Changes in treatment processes at the Middle Basin and Tomahawk Creek WWTFs improved wastewater effluent quality and decreased nutrient loads, but wastewater effluent discharges still had negative effects on the environmental and biological conditions at downstream Indian Creek sites. Wastewater effluent discharge into Indian Creek likely contributed to changes in measures of ecosystem structure (streamflow, water and streambed-sediment chemistry, algal biomass, and algal periphyton community composition) and function (primary production and community respiration) along the upstream-downstream gradient. Wastewater effluent discharges maintained streamflows and increased nutrient concentrations, algal biomass, primary production, and community respiration at the downstream sites. Functional stream health was severely impaired downstream from the Middle Basin WWTF and mildly impaired downstream from the Tomahawk WWTF relative to the urban upstream site. As distance from the Middle Basin WWTF increased, nutrient concentrations, algal biomass, primary production, and community respiration decreased, and functional stream health was no longer impaired 9.5 kilometers downstream from the discharge relative to the urban upstream site. Therefore, although wastewater effluent caused persistent changes in environmental and biological conditions and functional stream health at sites located immediately downstream from WWTF effluent discharges, some recovery to conditions more similar to the urban upstream site occurred within a relatively short distance.

First posted October 1, 2014

For additional information contact:
Director, Kansas Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
4821 Quail Crest Place
Lawrence, KS 66049
http://ks.water.usgs.gov

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). For best results viewing and printing PDF documents, it is recommended that you download the documents to your computer and open them with Adobe Reader. PDF documents opened from your browser may not display or print as intended. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge. More information about viewing, downloading, and printing report files can be found here.


Suggested citation:

Graham, J.L., Stone, M.L., Rasmussen, T.J., Foster, G.M., Poulton, B.C., Paxson, C.R., and Harris, T.D., 2014, Effects of wastewater effluent discharge and treatment facility upgrades on environmental and biological conditions of Indian Creek, Johnson County, Kansas, June 2004 through June 2013: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5187, 78 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20145187.

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)



Contents

Acknowledgments

Abstract

Introduction

Purpose and Scope

Description of Study Area

Previous Investigations

Methods

Environmental Conditions in Indian Creek

Biological Conditions of Indian Creek

Effects of Wastewater Effluent Discharge on Environmental and Biological Conditions of Indian Creek

Summary

References Cited

Appendixes 1 through 18 are available online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2014/5187/downloads/sir2014-5187_appendixes.xlsx


Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

USA.gov logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
URL: https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2014/5187/
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Page Last Modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2014, 03:26:05 PM