Urban Stream Toxicity (USGS # BQY23)


The State of Wisconsin has implemented a federally mandated program that requires cities with populations greater than 10,000 to develop stormwater-management plans. The intent is to eventually regulate stormwater as a point source of pollution by setting limits on the quantity and quality of runoff entering receiving waters. The critical problem that needs to be addressed is the degree to which constituents found in urban runoff need to be regulated in order to protect the biological integrity of receiving streams. Previous work performed for this project looked at fish spawning success along an urban gradient and relations of those data with stream-water toxicities, constituent concentrations, and field parameters measured along an urban gradient. Although toxicities were the focus of the preliminary work, data showed dissolved oxygen concentrations below known biotic thresholds in a number of streams. One question that needs to be addressed, therefore, is: what are the oxygen sinks within these systems? This will permit regulatory effort to be more effectively focused on identifying and addressing problem areas to enhance biological integrity of these urban streams. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would use this information to enhance understanding of oxygen budget in these streams, inform their decisions, and develop regulations necessary to protect, enhance, or restore aquatic communities. Municipalities will need this information to most economically and effectively comply with these impending regulations.


The purpose of this study is to provide a greater understanding of oxygen budgets in urban streams, so as to better understand causes of limitations imposed by oxygen deficiencies on the biotic structure of urban stream communities.

Study Design

Our approach for this study involves the compilation and review of literature related to dissolve oxygen concentrations in urban streams, followed by a field effort investigating the sources of dissolved oxygen depletion in selected urban streams. This study will examine the relation of watershed imperviousness in urban river systems to measures of toxicity in aquatic organisms. More specifically, the objective is to determine the toxicity of urban river systems to P. promelas as measured in 21-day spawning tests using in-situ caged fish.

Related Reports

Run Project Summary Report
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Targeted Monitoring
Reports and Documents
The study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), was an assessment of organic waste compounds (OWCs) in streams in the Milwaukee area. During 2006 – 2009, samples were collected from 17 sites and analyzed for a suite of 69 OWCs.
Supporting data for 09/06/2011 Journal Article.
Activities & Recommendations
Sediment Remediation Phase 2 - Extent Assessment
Testing for PAHs, creosote, and other toxins.
Sediment Remediation Phase 5 - Implementation
Creosote removal on the Little Menomonee River Moss-American Superfund site.