EPA Watershed Assessment Pilot Yellow River


An assessment of stream resources in the Upper Yellow River watershed located in central Wisconsin will be done during the 2011 field season to evaluate the utility of a stratified random (geometric) sampling design for assessing stream resources and to provide data for land and water resources management. Biological assessments using macroinvertebrate and fish assemblage data will be the primary measures of stream quality. Riparian and in-stream habitat features will be evaluated using qualitative assessment methods. Instantaneous measures of field chemical/physical parameters will be collected using electronic meters to measure water temperature, dissolved (D.O.) concentration, percent D.O. saturation, conductivity and pH. Water column transparency will be measured with a transparency tube. Repeated sampling of stream sites for water column nutrients, Biological Oxygen Demand (B.O.D.) and suspended sediment concentrations, and a single round of chlorophyll, E. coli sampling from all sites will be used to identify stressors to stream biota and geographic areas of degradation associated with land use. One round of water column and sediment samples from all sites will be analyzed for metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, total organic carbon (TOC) and pesticides. Sediment samples will also be analyzed for dissolved organic carbon and nutrients. Physical, chemical, and biological field and laboratory methods will follow standard (EPA and WDNR) operating procedures (SOPs). All field and lab data will be captured in WDNR electronic databases. Data analyses will include the use of physical, chemical and biological measures to characterize the conditions of individual monitoring sites, and aggregated data will be used to assess entire streams, and each geometrically-derived catchment area. Analyses of land cover and land use, and in-stream physical and chemical measures will be done to determine if watershed land use can be correlated with in-stream water quality or biological conditions. Physical habitat features, water chemistry measures, and land use data will be used to evaluate the response of macroinvertebrates and fish to environmental stressors. These data will be used to identify areas within the watershed that appear to be degraded, and to identify land use practices that appear to be detrimental to stream integrity, to help guide improved land management efforts.


1.Classify streams by Use Potential and determine if these potentials are being met. 2.Assess the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of stream survey sites, individual streams and overall watershed conditions. 3.Evaluate relationships between land use and in-stream physical and chemical stressors 4.Evaluate relationships between biota and physical and chemical stressors. 5.Identify streams and stream segments where changes in land management or Water Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) Discharge Permits will likely result in improved stream quality. Specifically we will sample the fish and macroinvertebrate assemblages, physical stream habitat, in-situ/instantaneous water chemistry (pH, conductivity, D.O, Temp, turbidity); water grab samples will be collected and analyzed for BOD, Chlorides, Sulfates, Total Dissolved Solids, Total Suspended Solids, Chlorophyll a, Nutrients (Total Phosphorus, Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, Nitrate-Nitrite-N and Ammonia), organochlorine and other pesticides and metals (Cadmium, Calcium, Copper, Iron, Lead, Magnesium and Zinc). Sediment samples will be collected and analyzed for Nutrients (Total Phosphorus, Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, Ammonia), organochlorine pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and metals (Arsenic, Cadmium, Copper, Iron, Lead, and Zinc).


Assessment of stream resources should provide data and information to characterize the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of water resources, to direct management actions and evaluate the effectiveness of current watershed and point source management efforts. Primary goals of the Yellow River Watershed Assessment Project are to: Apply a geometric sampling design to assess stream resources, in a cost effective and statistically valid fashion. Use fish and macroinvertebrate assemblage data as primary indicators to assess stream conditions. Use physical habitat, water chemistry, and land use data to identify stream stressors and streams or reaches most impacted by poor land management or other sources of impairment. Apply advanced data analytical techniques to improve the data interpretation and reporting of stream assessment information to improve monitoring program efficiency and effectiveness.

Study Design

Step 1: Statement of the Problem The WDNR will pilot the use of a watershed sampling design that attempts to integrate multiple program data needs into one coordinated survey of the Upper Yellow River Watershed. Data generated will be used to: 1) Determine if watershed streams are properly classified; 2) Determine whether streams are meeting their Use Classification potential; 3) Assess the overall condition of stream resources in the watershed; 4) Evaluate whether wastewater discharges from publically operated treatment plants, private industry (cheese factory), or agricultural activities have a measureable affect on the streams receiving point or nonpoint source pollution; 5) Explore relationships between physical and chemical stressors and biotic responses; 6) Demonstrate the effectiveness of the sampling design used to assess stream sites, individual streams and overall watershed conditions; 7) Demonstrate the value of the sampling design in addressing various programs’ (Water Quality Standards (WQS), Non-Point Source control (NPS), Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), data needs; 8) Demonstrate whether the design being applied improves integration and efficiencies of stream sampling relative to WDNR’s current stream sampling strategy. Step 2: Decision Statement Staff from the WDNR, EPA, and MBI will evaluate land cover and land use information to better understand potential threats to water quality from polluted run-off from crop land and urban areas, and also evaluate data from public and private wastewater treatment plants and farm sites to identify site-specific (point) sources of pollution. Data generated from geometric sampling sites will be used to characterize broad-scale water quality conditions, and targeted sampling sites-data be used to assess site-specific risks or problems. Step 3: Inputs to the Decision Physical habitat, water chemistry, and biological data will be used to assess stream quality at individual assessment sites. Habitat, water chemistry, and biological index scoring will provide numeric criteria to assess whether or not sites are meeting physical, chemical, or biological expectations. Water chemistry reference condition data and WDNR Water Quality Standards measures will be used to assess site-specific water quality data. Data from multiple sampling sites along a stream will be used to assess the overall condition of individual streams and aggregation of all the sampling data will be used to identify overall watershed and sub-watersheds stream quality conditions and geographic areas of concern. A.4.1 Optimizing Design - Selecting a resource efficient sampling design WDNR will use a geometric sampling design to characterize the quality of all streams and specific stream reaches within the Yellow River Watershed. Targeted sampling will be done to assess potential impacts of point sources of pollution and to fill-in geometric gaps missed by the geometric sampling site design. Discussions with various program data and information users were done to identify core data needs in attempt to address as many resource assessment and management questions as possible.

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