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Reports and Links

Wisconsin 2014 Integrated Report

Related Activities

South Fork Eau Claire River, Lisa Helmuth

South Fork Eau Claire River, Lisa Helmuth

Yahara River Watershed, JW Creations

JW Creations - Yahara River Watershed

Pheasant Branch Springs, JW Creations

Pheasant Branch Springs, jwcreations

Mississippi River Unit Summary Integrated Reporting 2014

Upper Mississippi River Restoration – Environmental Management Program – Long Term Resource Monitoring Program (LTRMP)

The Long Term Resource Monitoring Program (LTRMP) Exit DNR was authorized by Congress in 1986 as part of the U.S. Corps of Engineers’ Environmental Management Program on the Upper Mississippi River (UMR). This program is being implemented by USGS with assistance and field support by the five UMR States (MN, IA, WI, IL and MO). It has been in place since 1988 and provides information on water quality, vegetation, fisheries and land-cover/land-use and other resource information used to assess the trends and ecological health of the Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS). The Department’s LTRMP field station at La Crosse, WI carries out this monitoring program on navigational Pool 8 of the Mississippi River.

Pool 8 State of the Ecosystem Report [PDF]. This report provides a summary of water quality, fisheries and vegetation monitoring data collected by the LTRMP field station for years 1993 to 2012. Pool 8 underwent a change from a turbid, low submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) system to one with greater water clarity and SAV frequency. This change was associated with notable changes in the fisheries community during the monitoring period. View the charts and graphs for the Mississippi River progress [PDF].

Submersed Macrophyte Index for the UMR. There is increased interest by state and federal resource managers to use bioassessment as a tool to assess the health of the Upper Mississippi River (UMR).  In 2006-2008, aquatic macrophyte (plant) data was collected in main channel border (MCB) and side channel (SC) areas of Pools 1 to 11, UMR through the EPA’s Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program – Great Rivers Ecosystem (EMPA-GRE) Exit DNR.  The data was used to develop a bioassessment tool – the Submersed Macrophyte Index (SMI).  The index includes four metrics: percent frequency, abundance, species richness, and maximum depth of submersed plant occurrence.  The index score ranges from 0 to 110 with higher scores reflecting environmental conditions favorable for the growth of aquatic macrophytes.

LTRMP samples aquatic plants in two UMR navigation pools along the Wisconsin border (Pool 4 near Pepin, WI and Pool 8 near La Crosse, WI).  Although the sampling design was not identical to that utilized by EMAP-GRE, there was a desire to derive SMI values based on LTRMP vegetation surveys since this sampling program has a long monitoring record and to help support planned assessment activities that have been proposed by the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA Exit DNR) Water Quality Task Force Clean Water Act Monitoring Plan for the UMR. Currently, the LTRMP has a 14 year stratified random sampling (SRS) aquatic plant dataset.  The SMI was calculated using the LTRMP data for main channel border and side channel strata (Figure 1).  In general, the SMI has increased from 1998 to 2012 in upper and lower Pool 4 (above and below Lake Pepin, respectively) and Pool 8 in the main channel sampling stratum indicating submersed plants are improving in main channel areas.  SMI values in all three side channel areas increased from 1998 and followed a temporal pattern that was roughly similar to what was observed in the main channel. We anticipate using LTRMP vegetation data in future Clean Water Act assessment reports since it provides annual information and it will help integrate information collected as part of LTRMP with data collected under the proposed UMRBA Water Quality Task Force Clean Water Act Monitoring Plan for the UMR.

Duckweek Trap Mississippi River study, John Sullivan, 2014

Great River Fish Index for the Upper Mississippi River - Fish communities provide an excellent indicator of aquatic habitat and water quality conditions. As a result, fish are a key biological indicator for assessing aquatic life use in streams and rivers. The US EPA’s EMAP- GRE project developed a biological index for fish for the UMR called the Great River Fish Index or GRFin. The UMRBA Water Quality Task Force recommend using this biotic index as part of their proposed Clean Water Act Monitoring Plan for the UMR. Substantial fisheries data are available for several study reaches on the Upper Mississippi and lower Illinois Rivers based on annual sampling conducted by LTRMP since the early 1990s.There was interest to see if GRFin scores could be derived from LTRMP data. Although LTRMP fish collection sampling procedures were not identical to those developed by EMAP-GRE, method comparisons revealed that reasonable estimates of the GRFin could be obtained using LTRMP fish data. This required combining five-200 m long electro fishing shoreline sampling runs from multiple sites using a random process to yield a relatively equivalent sampling effort to EMAP- GRE methods, which sampled 1000 m of shoreline. Further, in order to increase the sample size, data were compiled for summer (June-September) sampling runs over multiple years. In addition, fish weights were not routinely recorded in LTRMP sampling, but were required for GRFIn calculations, so they were estimated using length-weight relationships from other studies. More specific documentation of these methods are available by contacting our department’s LTRMP fish component specialist in La Crosse. LTRMP-derived GRFin scores for the UMR navigation Pools 4, 8, 13 and 26 for the 2009 to 2011 period are illustrated in Figure 1. The range of scores ranged from about 3 to 9 on a 0 to 10 scale. Scores less than 4 generally indicate of poor water quality or habitat conditions.  Pool 8 yielded the highest scores while Pool 26 had the lowest scores suggesting that unidentified water quality or habitat stressors were accounting for the difference in scores between the two pools.

LTRMP-derived GRfin scores were calculated for each study pool for three different aquatic areas or strata including the main channel border, side channels and contiguous backwater areas. This was done at varying yearly intervals for the 1994 to 2011 period. Comparisons of GRFin scores for the main channel versus side channel borders indicated very similar results for a specific study pool suggesting similar water quality and habitat conditions for these two aquatic areas (Figure 3A). A similar GRFin score comparison between main channel border to contiguous backwaters also revealed a strong correlation between the two aquatic areas with the exception of Pool 26. The reason for this response was not determined but suggests habitat or water quality factors may be contributing to either high backwater scores or lower main channel scores in scores in this pool. Additional evaluations of LTRMP data are warranted to see what factors or stressors are contributing to longitudinal differences in GRFin scores.

Studies of duckweed and other free-floating plants (FFP) – These plants may form dense surface mats that reduce ecosystem health, and can impair public use of aquatic resources.  The UMR has experienced a large increase in free-floating plants comprised of duckweeds and filamentous algae in recent years (Figure 4).  Dense mats of FFP have been shown to create low oxygen conditions, reduce fish and invertebrate biomass, and decrease property values (Shawn do we have a reference for the last item?). During many years, a large proportion of backwater habitat is covered by these mats resulting in poor fish and wildlife habitat and reduced recreational opportunities.  While much of the emphasis regarding excessive phosphorus and nitrogen loading to the UMR has focused on “The Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, it is becoming increasingly evident that high nutrient concentrations can have effects on the local ecosystem as well. The objective of these studies was to better understand the factors that are associated with the formation of dense surface mats of these plants. Favorable environmental conditions for FFP include abundant nitrogen and phosphorus, warm water temperature, shallow water depth, and low water velocity.  Additionally, the presence of rooted aquatic plants (submersed, rooted floating-leaved, and emergent), which act as a substrate to hold FFP in place, has been associated with high FFP biomass.  Studies indicated that relatively small changes in drivers such as water velocity, rooted aquatic plant cover, water depth, and nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations can produce relatively large changes in FFP biomass.  The study also estimated thresholds of causal factors that were important in influencing  FFP abundance. These factors included nutrient concentrations, water depth, current velocity, and rooted aquatic plant abundance.

Management actions on the Upper Mississippi River are often designed to alter water velocity and hydraulic connection between channel and off-channel areas. (e.g., constructing islands to reduce wind fetch and create shallow, sheltered areas).   Factors influencing FFP development, along with observed patterns in nitrogen and phosphorus limitation, will help managers and project planners understand likely effects of rehabilitation project design on FFP abundance.  Furthermore, the estimated phosphorus threshold is consistent with the numeric phosphorus criterion of < 0.1 mg/L total phosphorus for Wisconsin non-wadeable rivers (Wisconsin Administrative Code NR 102.06(3)); achieving this value may reduce the frequency of occurrence of large FFP mats in the UMR. 

Recent published manuscripts and other reports evaluating duckweeds and free-floating plants prepared by LTRMP and Mississippi River Unit water quality staff include:

Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) Water Quality Task Force Activities

The UMRBA Water Quality Task Force provides a forum for water resource management program coordination and consultation among the five state (IA, IL, MN, MO, and WI) water quality management agencies and US EPA Regions 5 and 7.  The focus of the Task Force’s activities in the past two years has been on the development of Clean Water Act Strategy and Recommended Monitoring Plan for the UMR [PDF]. The plan has been approved by the UMRBA Board and was endorsed by the UMRBA Water Quality Executive Committee at their recent meetings in February 2014. The plan, if funded, provides a consistent and coordinated interstate monitoring approach for assessing the water quality of UMR including the use of new biological assessment methods. This new monitoring initiative would enhance states’ ability to track changes in water quality, provide consistency in identify water quality problems, help track nutrient reduction strategies and provide information assessing attainment of designated uses. Current efforts are now focused on the development of an assessment methodology which will provide guidance for  evaluating attainment of the four major Clean Water Act designated uses for the UMR including: aquatic life, drinking water, human health (fish consumption) and recreation.

The CWA Monitoring Strategy for the UMR will not only consider water quality assessments of the main channel, which is the primary initial focus, but will also consider the need for developing assessment procedures for lateral aquatic areas including:  side channel, contiguous backwater and impounded strata. Monitoring data collected as part federal Long Term Resource Monitoring Program is expected to facilitate this effort since this program has physical, chemical and biological information for major aquatic areas in several study reaches in the UMR System. Part of this evaluation has begun as described previously where we are developing procedures to derive CWA Monitoring Plan biological indicators (fish and submersed macrophyte indices) using data collected by LTRMP.

LaCrosse Marsh Lead Studies

The La Crosse Gun Club operated a large trap shooting range on the southern edge of the La Crosse Marsh (Figure 6) for about 30 years (1932-1963).  Cursory evaluations by the Department in 1989 and by an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse (UW-La Crosse) in 1994 revealed moderate to high lead pellet densities in the upper foot of sediment in areas adjacent to the trap range. More detailed investigations by researchers at the UW-La Crosse in 2011 indicated maximum sediment lead concentrations of approximately 20,000 ug/g (ppm) with pellet densities exceeding 40,000 /m2. UW-La Crosse was successful in obtaining an USEPA Urban Waters Small Grant to conduct additional research and public outreach to describe that fate of this legacy lead contamination and potential threats to aquatic  resources, wildlife and the public.  The Department is cooperating with the UW-La Crosse in this effort and has undertaken additional monitoring to evaluate this site.  The primary goals of this investigation include:

  • Determine the extent and level of lead contamination in the La Crosse Marsh and identify
  • threats to aquatic life, wildlife the public and determine the need for sediment remediation.
  • Cooperate and provide assistance to University-lead research and monitoring efforts
  • Educate the public and strengthen partnerships of marsh stakeholders
  • Provide assessment methods for evaluating similarly impacted wetland

Monitoring conducted by the department in 2012 and 2013 confirmed the presence of very high sediment lead concentrations (~3,800 to 5,400 ppm) in the area where lead shot fall out was expected to be greatest (Figure 5).  Time-composited sediment trap samples were collected in the spring and early summer of 2012 and 2013 to provide estimates of lead concentrations in suspended particulate matter. This sampling also revealed very high lead levels (~1,300-3,700 ppm) suggesting bed sediment levels were likely contributing to high water column lead concentrations due to sediment resuspension, bioturbation and other processes. Water sampling in the zone of highest sediment lead concentrations in 2013 indicated elevated lead concentrations ranging from about 8 to 68 ppm with a 4-day rolling average concentration of 12.3 ppm based on daily sampling from August 6th to 13th.  This average concentration of lead was about one-third the chronic toxicity threshold (36 ppm) assuming a total water hardness of 130 ppm.

Sediment bioassays were performed by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygine on samples collected from the Marsh in July 2012. Although sediments were found to have very high lead concentrations, sediment toxicity evaluations using the midge, Chironomus tentans, and the amphipod, Hyalella aztetca, were negative. The department is waiting for the results of additional studies that are being completed by the UW-La Crosse in addition to fish tissue samples collected by our department. Once this information is received and evaluated, a determination will be made concerning an impaired waters status (303d listing) and the need sediment remediation.

Last revised: Tuesday May 30 2017