Missouri Water Science Center

Effects of Wastewater and Combined Sewer Overflows on Water Quality in the Blue River Basin, Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas, July 1998—October 2000

By Donald H. Wilkison, Daniel J. Armstrong, and Dale W. Blevins, U.S. Geological Survey

Prepared in cooperation with the City of Kansas City, Missouri, Water Services Department


Samples were collected from 16 base-flow events and a minimum of 10 stormflow events between July 1998 and October 2000 to characterize the effects of wastewater and combined sewer overflows on water quality in the Blue River Basin, Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas. Water-quality effects were determined by analysis of nutrients, chloride, chemical and biochemical oxygen demand, and suspended sediment samples from three streams (Blue River, Brush Creek, and Indian Creek) in the basin as well as the determination of a suite of compounds known to be indicative of wastewater including antioxidants, caffeine, detergent metabolites, antimicrobials, and selected over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals. Constituent loads were determined for both hydrologic regimes and a measure of the relative water-quality impact of selected stream reaches on the Blue River and Brush Creek was developed. Genetic fingerprint patterns of Escherichia coli bacteria from selected stream samples were compared to a data base of known-source patterns to determine possible sources of bacteria.

Water quality in the basin was affected by wastewater during both base flows and stormflows; however, there were two distinct sources that contributed to these effects. In the Blue River and Indian Creek, the nearly continuous discharge of treated wastewater effluent was the primary source of nutrients, wastewater indicator compounds, and pharmaceutical compounds detected in stream samples. Wastewater inputs into Brush Creek were largely the result of intermittent stormflow events that triggered the overflow of combined storm and sanitary sewers, and the subsequent discharge of untreated wastewater into the creek. A portion of the sediment, organic matter, and associated constituents from these events were trapped by a series of impoundments constructed along Brush Creek where they likely continued to affect water quality during base flow.

Concentrations and loads of most wastewater constituents in the Blue River and Indian Creek were significantly greater than in Brush Creek, especially during base flow. However, wastewater indicator compound concentrations were sometimes greater in some Brush Creek stormflow samples. Selected stream reaches along the mid-portion of Brush Creek showed higher effects relative to other sites, primarily because these sites were in impounded reaches with the greatest density of wastewater inputs, or had relatively small drainage areas.





Purpose and Scope


Description of Study Area


Sampling Protocol

Statistical Analyses

Quality Control and Assurance

Water Quality

Wastewater Indicator Compounds and Wastewater Treatment Removal Efficiencies

Base-Flow Water Quality

Physical Properties


Wastewater Indicator Compounds


Caffeine and Cotinine

Sterols and Stanols

Phenols and Detergent Metabolites


Insect Repellents

Flame Retardants



Additional Wastewater Indicators During Base Flow

Pharmaceutical Compounds

Bacteria and Bacterial Sources

Stormflow Water Quality

Nutrients in Stormflow

Wastewater Indicator Compounds


Caffeine and Cotinine

Sterols and Stanols

Phenols and Detergent Compounds


Insect Repellents

Flame Retardants



Relative Hydrograph Contributions of Constituents

Yields and Relative Water-Quality Impact Rankings




 1.  Map showing location of study area and sampling sites

 2.  Graphs showing mean daily discharge for Blue River near Kansas City (site 5) and Brush Creek at Ward Parkway (site 7) from October 1997 through September 2000

 3. Graphs showing specific conductance, pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity beginning August 1998 through September 2000

 4.  Quantile-quantile plots showing quality assurance data

5—7.    Boxplots showing:

 5.  Total nitrogen concentration by site and the percentage of the total nitrogen derived from nitrate by stream (inset) in base-flow samples

 6.  Total phosphorus concentration by site and the percentage of the total phosphorus that is orthophosphate by stream (inset) in base-flow samples

 7.  Total nonionic detergent concentration by site and stream (inset) in base-flow samples

 8.  Graphs showing concentrations and loads of selected pharmaceutical compounds in base-flow samples

 9.  Trilinear diagrams showing percentage of similarity between ribosomnal patterns of Escherichia coli isolates from water samples at three sites when compared against three possible hosts (dog, goose, or human)

10.—13.  Boxplots showing:

10.  Number of wastewater indicator compounds detected in base-flow and stormflow samples at each site

11.  Sum of loads (A) and sum of concentrations (B) for wastewater indicator compounds in storm hydrograph segments

12.  Yield of selected constituents in base-flow samples

13.  Yield of selected constituents in stormflow samples


  1.    Physical properties, nutrients, bacteria, and selected chemical concentrations in base-flow samples
  2.    Concentrations of selected wastewater indicator compounds in base-flow samples
  3.    Concentrations of selected wastewater indicator compounds in sewage samples
  4.    Concentrations of selected water-quality constituents in stormflow samples
  5.    Concentrations of selected wastewater indicator compounds in stormflow samples
  6.    Concentrations of selected water-quality constituents and wastewater indicator compounds in field blank and equipment blank samples
  7.    Average wastewater treatment removal efficiencies, in percent, for selected wastewater indicator compounds
  8.    Detection frequency of selected pharmaceutical compounds in base-flow samples (n=39) and method detection limits
  9.    Relative water-quality impact rankings between sites during storm and base-flow conditions

This report is available online in Portable Document Format (PDF). If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader, it is available for free download from Adobe Systems Incorporated..

View entire report in PDF format (11.3 MB)


Document Accessibility:  Adobe Systems Incorporated has information about PDFs and the visually impaired. This information provides tools to help make PDF files accessible. These tools and the accessible reader may be obtained free from Adobe at Adobe Access.

For more information about USGS activities in Missouri contact:


U.S. Geological Survey

Missouri Water Science Center

1400 Independence Road

Rolla, Missouri 65401

Telephone: (573) 308-3667

Fax: (573) 308-3645

or access the USGS Missouri Water Science Center home page at:  http://mo.water.usgs.gov/.

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Persistent URL: https://pubs.water.usgs.gov/wri02-4107
Page Contact Information: Publications Team
Page Last Modified: Wednesday, 07-Dec-2016 13:14:53 EST
FirstGov button  Take Pride in America button