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  WMIC Publications

Vol. 1, No. 1, February 1995

Table of Contents


In 1991, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began to implement a National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program. The long-term goals of the NAWQA program are to describe the status and trends in the quality of a large, representative part of the Nation's surface- and ground-water resources and to provide a sound, scientific understanding of the primary natural and anthropogenic factors affecting the quality of these resources.

To achieve these goals, the USGS is employing a multi-discipline approach which includes the collection of physical, chemical, ecological, and ancillary anthropogenic data. These data will provide multiple lines of evidence to assess water quality.

The study-unit investigations comprise the principal building blocks of the national assessment. The 60 study-unit boundaries are based on one or more of the following: surface-water drainage basins, the extent of ground-water aquifers, and political boundaries (fig. 1).


Where Is The Western Lake Michigan Drainage Basin (WMIC)

The Western Lake Michigan Drainage Basin (WMIC) was among the first 20 NAWQA study units selected to begin study activities in 1991. The WMIC study unit encompasses a 20,000 square-mile area in eastern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (fig. 2).

WMIC Study Area

The study unit is comprised of streams draining to Lake Michigan, including the Fox-Wolf, Menominee, Oconto, and Peshtigo River basins in Wisconsin, and the Escanaba and Ford River basins in Michigan. The overall population in the area is 2,435,000 (1990). Agriculture is a major activity, with about 35 percent of the land use in the study unit devoted to cropland and pasture. About 50 percent of the study area, including a large percentage of land in the northwest part of the basin, is forested.

Major water-quality issues in the study unit include nonpoint-source contamination of surface and ground water by agricultural chemicals, contamination in bottom sediments of rivers and harbors by toxic substances, including PCB's, other synthetic organic compounds, and trace elements, and nutrient enrichment of streams resulting from nonpoint- and point-source discharges.


The staff of the WMIC NAWQA study unit is comprised of a diverse group of water-resources professionals, hydrologic technicians, and university students working out of the USGS offices in Madison, Wisconsin, and Escanaba and Lansing, Michigan. The members of the WMIC NAWQA team are:

Photo of staff

Charlie Peters (Study Unit Chief); Dale Robertson (Research Surface Water Specialist); Sharon Fitzgerald (Research Biogeochemist); Dan Sullivan (Surface Water Chemist and Fish Specialist); Steve Rheaume (Benthic Invertebrate Specialist and Ground Water Hydrologist); Faith Fitzpatrick (Geomorphology and Habitat Specialist); Barbara Scudder (Biologist and Trace Element Specialist); Dave Saad (Ground Water Specialist); Jana Stewart (GIS Specialist and Data Base Manager); Kevin Richards (Lead Hydrologic Technician); Bernie Lenz (Hydrologist Trainee); Jim Ellis (Supervisory Hydrologic Technician); John Knudson (Hydrologic Technician); and University of Wisconsin students Scott Parsons (Water Resources), Amy Matzen (Water Resources); Brian Dalsing (Cartography); Evan Bloyer (Geography); and Ross Bagwell (Cartography).

Why NAWQA News

The Western Lake Michigan NAWQA team is compiling this newsletter to provide updates on the status of our activities to the water-resources community of Wisconsin and Michigan. The NAWQA program is designed to work with liaison committee members in developing a policy-relevant data-collection and research program. By informing you of our ongoing work we hope to facilitate your involvement with the process and to develop other cooperative efforts.

The distribution of the newsletter is intended to be to all water-resources stakeholders that may have an interest in our work. If you would like your name added to or removed from this mailing list, or if you have any comments regarding this newsletter or our workplans, call Charlie Peters at (608) 276-3810, or write to:

U.S. Geological Survey
6417 Normandy Lane
Madison, Wisconsin 53719

or send e-mail to capeters@usgs.gov

Design Of WMIC Program

The WMIC study unit investigation began in 1991 with 2 years of planning, reconnaissance, and analysis of existing data. The second phase, 3 years of high-intensity sampling, began in 1993. The third phase, report production, has been ongoing since 1992 and will continue into 1998. The fourth phase, low-intensity sampling, will begin in 1996 and continue until 2001 when the cycle is scheduled to begin again. Table 1 further describes the second phase.

The surface-water component of the study-unit investigation includes sampling at a network of fixed sites and in a series of synoptic surveys. The 11 Basic Fixed-Monitoring Sites (BFS's) (fig. 2) are stream sites at which hydrologic conditions are continuously monitored and water-quality samples are collected repetitively. Stream-water samples are being collected at the BFS's on a monthly basis beginning in 1993 and continuing through 1995. Weekly samples were collected at a subset of the BFS's in 1993 and 1994. Additional samples are collected at all BFS's during hydrologic events. The results of sampling at the BFS's will provide long-term data for the analysis of water-quality trends. The synoptic surveys were designed to address specific issues or concerns about water quality in the WMIC study unit; these surveys involve the sampling of sites once or twice and may include sampling at the BFS's. Planned or completed synoptic surveys include a study-unit-wide water-quality study during which about 80 sites will be sampled, and nutrient sampling at 5 to 10 tributaries in subbasins of 7 of the BFS's (with concurrent BFS sampling) during periods of low and high flow. The basin-wide water-quality study is designed to measure the spatial representativeness of the 11 BFS's, while the nutrient study is designed to compare the input of nutrients from fertilizers, the atmosphere, and point sources to outputs of nutrients in streamflow.

The ground-water component includes a flow-path study, two land-use surveys, and a study-unit survey. The flow-path study is designed to determine the transport and fate of selected constituents in groundwater on a local scale. The flow-path study is being done in an agricultural area underlain by sandy surficial deposits and carbonate bedrock. The land-use surveys are designed to document the effects of agricultural land use on shallow ground-water quality. Two agricultural areas are targeted for land-use surveys and differ only in the texture of surficial deposits and bedrock type. The study-unit survey is designed to assess the water quality in the major water-supply aquifers in the study unit. The study-unit survey will be divided into several parts, the first of which will characterize parts of the Cambrian-Ordivician aquifer, a predominantly sandstone aquifer underlying all but the northwesternmost parts of the study unit.

The ecological component includes collection of samples of algae, benthic invertebrates, and fish communities; collection of biological tissue and bed-sediment samples for analysis of trace elements, pesticides and other synthetic organic components; and description of associated stream reach habitats at the 11 BFS's in each of the three years of intensive sampling and at 31 sites as part of a synotic survey conducted in 1993 and 1995. The ecological sampling at the BFS's is designed to provide additional information on water quality in the study unit by assessing species abundance and diversity, and the bioavailability of contaminants at these sites. The ecological synoptic survey was designed to identify the biotic communities and aquatic habitat in relatively pristine streams in predominantly agricultural areas. The results will define "healthy" stream ecosystems that can be compared to ecosystem results from streams affected by agricultural runoff to determine the degree of change that could be expected in the affected stream if agricultural Best Management Practices were implemented.

A geographic information system (GIS) data base is being developed that will incorporate digitized hydrologic boundaries and site locations for surface-water, ground-water, and ecological studies, as well as ancillary data on natural and anthropogenic features for specific study areas and study sites.

Pesticides in Surface Waters

For each round of the NAWQA program, specific water-quality topics of national concern are defined. Pesticides are a current national-synthesis topic. In the WMIC, pesticides are a concern because of the large percentage of agricultural land use, especially in the southeastern part of the study unit.

Stream-water samples were collected for pesticide analysis at all BFS's (fig. 2) except for mainstem sites on the Fox and Menominee Rivers. Samples were collected during runoff events early in the growing season to coincide with the largest expected concentrations of pesticides in streams. In addition, stream-water samples were collected during low flow in agricultural and non-agricultural basins to determine background levels of pesticides in a variety of streams in the study area.

Atrazine was detected at every site during low-flow sampling including sites at which upstream agricultural activity is minimal. However, at the sites in non-agricultural areas, observed concentrations of atrazine were very low--just above minimum detection levels. The maximum concentrations of atrazine were observed in samples collected during periods of storm runoff in June and July of 1993 and 1994 from two streams draining agricultural areas. Due to unusual weather conditions in those two years, samples will again be collected at one site in 1995 to better determine runoff/pesticide concentration relationships in agricultural areas of the WMIC.

Nitrate And Atrazine In Ground Water

During August and September, 1994, land-use studies were completed in two areas of the WMIC study unit (fig. 3).

Map of study area

The studies focused on the effect of agricultural land use on shallow ground-water quality. The two areas have similar land use but different types of surficial deposits. One area (Area 3) is underlain by relatively impermeable sand and clay, while the other area (Area 20/26) is underlain by highly permeable sand and gravel. Approximately 30 wells were installed near corn and/or alfalfa fields in each area and water samples from each well were analyzed for approximately 150 water-quality constituents, including nitrate and atrazine.

In Area 3, 7 percent of the ground water samples contained nitrate (as N) concentrations that exceeded 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) and 32 percent exceeded 2 mg/L. In Area 20/26, 37 percent exceeded 10 mg/L and 83 percent exceeded 2 mg/L. The most commonly detected pesticides in both areas were atrazine and one of its metabolites de-ethyl atrazine. Atrazine and/or de-ethylatrazine was detected in 73 and 93 percent of the water samples from wells in Area 3 and Area 20/26, respectively. These results indicate a strong correlation between the permeability of surficial deposits and elevated nitrate and atrazine concentrations in shallow ground water in areas of agricultural land use.

Relating Water-Quality Data To The Landscape

A geographic information system (GIS) is being used in the WMIC NAWQA to integrate a wide variety of data into a spatial and relational database, so that water quality data from single or multiple sites can be related to other natural or anthropogenic features in the landscape.

A GIS was used during initial stages of the WMIC study to characterize the surface-water basins and ground-water aquifers for sampling-site selection. Land-use/land-cover data were overlaid with bedrock geology and surficial geology to subdivide the study area into relatively homogenous units. In essence, these units were defined on the basis of unique combinations of natural and anthropogenic features thought to affect surface- and ground-water quality. Once sampling-site selection was completed, site locations and aquifer and subbasin boundaries for all sampling sites were digitized in a GIS. Existing land cover, derived from satellite imagery, will become another GIS layer and will be used to further characterize sub-basins and aquifers and identify relations to water quality through statistical analyses and modeling.

Coordinating Monitoring Efforts In Wisconsin

Effective environmental monitoring is essential to understanding, managing, and protecting water resources. Personnel from several agencies, including NAWQA, are collecting water-quality information throughout Wisconsin. In 1992, the USGS, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) began a partnership to try to strengthen the coordination of these monitoring efforts. This partnership is part of a national thrust program called the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality (ITFM).

The primary goals of the ITFM program in Wisconsin are to (1) develop a framework that will coordinate and improve information being collected on surface- and ground-water quality, (2) develop and recommend application of environmental indicators and standard descriptors of aquatic conditions, and (3) recommend linkages between various information systems that would result in a water-information network that allows personnel from various agencies to share data quickly and easily.

A field study was conducted as part of this program during the summer of 1994 to compare water-quality sample-collection methods used by the USGS and WDNR. The goal of this study was to determine the comparability of methods being used to collect data by these two agencies. By understanding the similarities and differences in the data collected by each agency, a larger data base will potentially be available to all data users in Wisconsin. For more information about this program, contact Gail Epping (Wisconsin ITFM Coordinator) at (608) 267-0555.


Five reports are required by the NAWQA national leadership team for consistency between study units. These include: a study unit Fact Sheet, an environmental setting report; a nutrient and suspended-sediment retrospective report; a non-technical report; and a summary report. Of these, the Fact Sheet has been published and the environmental setting and the retrospective reports are in the review process. The non-technical report and the summary report will be prepared following the conclusion of the intensive sampling phase.

In addition to these required reports, numerous short topical reports are planned for release as abstracts, proceedings, journal articles, and in various USGS report formats. Of these topical reports, 13 abstracts, 2 proceedings, a Master's Thesis, this newsletter and 2 Fact Sheets have been approved for publication or have been published. Nine other topical reports are planned for approval in 1995. Lists of the reports published, approved for publication, in review, and in preparation, are as follows:

  • National Water-Quality Assessment Program -- Western Lake Michigan Drainage Basin, Water Fact Sheet, OFR 91-161, J.O. Setmire, 1991.

  • National Water-Quality Assessment: An Integrative Approach to Assess Water Quality in Western Lake Michigan Basins, Abstract, Wisconsin Chapter-American Water Resources Association annual meeting, D.M. Robertson, 1992.

  • Biological Assessments in the National Water-Quality Assessment Program - Western Lake Michigan Drainages Study Unit, Abstract, Society of Environmental Toxicology and Contamination annual meeting, B.C. Scudder, et al, 1993.

  • A Comparison of Nitrate Concentrations in Ground Water and Surface Water of the Western Lake Michigan Drainages Study Unit, Abstract, Wisconsin Chapter-American Water Resources Association annual meeting, D.A. Saad, 1994.

  • Nutrient Loss from Forest and Agricultural Areas, Abstract, Wisconsin Chapter-American Water Resources Association annual meeting, D.M. Robertson, 1994.

  • Assessment of Alternative Methods for Stratifying Landsat TM Data to Improve Land-Cover Classification Accuracy Across Areas Exhibiting Physiographic Variation, Abstract, International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing Symposium on Mapping and Geographic Information Systems, J.S. Stewart, 1994.

  • Influence of Surficial Soils, Land Use, and Stream Gradient on Suspended-Sediment and Phosphorous Loads in Streams Entering the Great Lakes, Abstract, American Geophysical Union annual meeting, San Francisco, D.M. Robertson, 1994.

  • Assessment of Alternative Methods for Stratifying Landsat TM Data to Improve Land-Cover Classification Accuracy Across Areas with Physiographic Variation, Master's Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, J.S. Stewart, 1994.

  • NAWQA News, National Water Quality Assessment Program -- Western Lake Michigan Drainage Basins, newsletter, v. 1, no. 1, Jan. 1995.

  • National Water Quality Assessment Program - Nitrate in Ground Water in the Western Lake Michigan Drainage, Water Fact Sheet, Open-File Report 95-xxx, D.A. Saad, 1995.

  • National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program: Scope of the Western Lake Michigan Drainages Basin Study Unit Investigation, Abstract, Proceedings of Wisconsin Chapter of the American Water Resources Association chapter annual meeting, March 1-3, 1995, C.A. Peters.

  • Nutrients and Pesticides in Ground Water of Two Agricultural Land-Use Areas in the Western Lake Michigan Drainages NAWQA Study Unit, Abstract, Proceedings of Wisconsin Chapter of the American Water Resources Association, March 1-3, 1995, D.A. Saad.

  • Inputs of Phosphorous and Suspended-Sediments into Lake Michigan and the United States part of Lake Superior, Abstract, Proceedings of Wisconsin Chapter of the American Water Resources Association, March 1-3, 1995, D.M. Robertson.

  • Trace Elements in Caddisflies and Streambed Sediments from Streams in the Western Lake Michigan Drainage, Abstract, Proceedings of the North American Benthological Society National Meeting, May 30 to June 2, 1995, B.C. Scudder et al.

  • Bottom Sediment Behavior and Composition in the Upper Reaches of the East River Watershed, Brown County, Wisconsin, the Geological Society of America North Central/South Central sections meeting, April 1995, G.W. Mason, T.H. McIntosh, and D.M. Robertson.

  • Stratification of Landsat Thematic Mapper Data, Based on Regional Landscape Patterns, To Improve Land-Cover Classification Accuracy of Large Study Areas, Proceedings Paper, annual conference of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, February 27 to March 3, 1995, Charlotte, NC, J.S. Stewart.

  • National Water Quality Assessment: Western Lake Michigan Drainages, Proceedings of the Clean Water - Clean Environment - 21st Century conference presented by the USDA working group on water quality, March 5-8, 1995, Kansas City, Missouri, D.J. Sullivan and K.D. Richards, 4 p.

  • U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program -- Western Lake Michigan Drainages, Abstracts of Liaison Committee Meeting, Green Bay, WI, March 28-29, 1995, Open-File Report 95-xxx, C.A. Peters, ed., 30 p.

In Review
  • Water-Quality Assessment of the Western Lake Michigan Drainages --Analysis of Available Information on Nutrients and Suspended Sediment, Water Years 1971-90, Water Resources Investigation Report 95-xxx, D.M. Robertson and D.A. Saad, 1995, 200 p.

  • National Water-Quality Assessment Program--Environmental Retrospective of the Western Lake Michigan Drainages, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-xxx, C.A. Peters, ed., 1995, 150 p.

In Preparation
  • Relatively Pristine Streams in Agricultural Settings in Wisconsin: Environmental Setting, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-xxx-A, S.J. Rheaume, J.S. Stewart, and B.N. Lenz, 1995, 20 p.

  • Water-Quality Assessment of the Western Lake Michigan Drainages -- Summary of Biological Investigations Relating to Surface-Water Quality, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-xxx, B.C. Scudder, S.J. Rheaume, D.J. Sullivan, and B.N. Lenz, 1995, 20 p.

  • Water-Quality Assessment of the Western Lake Michigan Drainages -- Environmental Setting of the Basic Fixed-Monitoring Sites, Water Resources 96-xxx-A, D.J. Sullivan, B.C. Scudder, and S.J. Rheaume, 1995, 20 p.

1995 Plans
  • NAWQA News, National Water-Quality Assessment Program -- Western Lake Michigan Drainages, newsletter, v. 1, no. 2, August, 1995, 4 p.

  • Transport of Sediment and Nutrients out of the Western Lake Michigan Drainages, journal, D.M. Robertson, 1996, 10 p.

  • Comparison of Land-Cover Data Bases in the Fox-Wolf River Basin, Water Fact Sheet, Open-File Report 95-xxx, J.S. Stewart, 1995, 2 p.

  • Relatively Pristine Streams in Agricultural Settings in Wisconsin: Algae, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-xxx-B, B.C. Scudder and J.S. Stewart, 1996, 20 p.

  • Relatively Pristine Streams in Agricultural Settings in Wisconsin: Benthic Invertebrates, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-xxx-C, S.J.Rheaume and B.N. Lenz, 1996, 20 p.

  • Relatively Pristine Streams in Agricultural Settings in Wisconsin: Habitat, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-xxx-D, F.A. Fitzpatrick, J.S. Stewart, and B.N. Lenz, 1996, 20 p.

  • Relatively Pristine Streams in Agricultural Settings in Wisconsin: Fish, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-xxx-E, D.J. Sullivan, 1996, 20 p.

  • Statistical Analysis of Data Comparing Water-Quality Monitoring Results Obtained by Different Sampling Techniques, Water Resources Investigations Report 95-xxx, D.M. Robertson and P.A. Kammerer, 1995, 20 p.

1995 Liaison Meeting Planned

The 1995 liaison committee meeting is being planned for March 28 and 29, 1995, at the Radisson Inn located in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The meeting will begin at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday and end at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Presentations of findings by the NAWQA staff on the high- and low-flow synoptic study, pesticides in surface water, the ground-water land-use and flow-path studies, the relatively pristine streams in agricultural settings ecological study, trace elements in bed sediments and biotic tissue study, and updates on GIS research will be given. In addition, presentations will be made by other (non-USGS) researchers doing relevant studies in the WMIC. A block of rooms is reserved (until March 1) at the Radisson Inn for Tuesday night, March 28. Make your plans now to get together with the NAWQA staff and other basin water-resource investigators for two stimulating days of presentations and discussion. If you have any questions concerning the liaison meeting or have suggestions for topics for inclusion, call Charlie Peters at (608) 238-8343.

Next NAWQA News Due in August, 1995

The next newsletter from the WMIC NAWQA team is scheduled to be published in August, 1995. The major focus of the next issue will be findings from the ecological studies, although updates on other aspects of the NAWQA program will also be included. Please feel free to contact Charlie Peters at (608) 276-3810 if there is something in particular you would like to see in the next issue of NAWQA News.


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