the lower fox river watershed monitoring program    
University of Wisconsin Green Bay
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Watershed Research Program

Recent University & Agency Research Results from the Project: 2003 to 2007

Baird Creek Urbanization Study:: The Baird Creek watershed is rapidly changing from agricultural to urban land use between Northview Road and Interstate 43. To assess how urbanization is impacting the aquatic ecosystem of Baird Creek and to assist the City of Green Bay and the Baird Creek Preservation Foundation in making informed land management decisions within the watershed, this project established the following research questions: (1) Do differences exist in the water quality of the agricultural and urbanizing tributaries? (2) Has the channel morphology of Baird Creek and its tributaries changed in response to hydrologic alterations in the urbanizing watershed? (3) Is the L-THIA watershed development assessment tool a viable model for assessing the impact of future development in the Baird Creek watershed? Overall, the study found that urbanization is adversely impacting Baird Creek. Statistical analysis showed that event concentrations of sediment and total phosphorus were significantly higher on the urbanizing tributary than the agricultural branch. Also, although the urbanizing portion of the watershed comprised only 18.5% of the total land area, it contributed 60-70% of the total sediment load during a period of summer storm events. The channel morphology assessment showed that the cross-sectional area and bankfull width of sites located on urbanizing tributaries increased dramatically between the 2002 and 2004 surveys, but fewer impacts were seen at the sites downstream on the main channel. Finally, an evaluation of the L-THIA model as a potential development assessment tool indicated that care must be taken to fully understand the hydrological processes being modeled in order to avoid underestimating impacts of development.

Biological Monitoring Results - (2003-2004, 2003-2005, 2003-2006): The biological integrity of the five study streams in the Lower Fox River were evaluated by sampling fish, invertebrates and assessing stream habitat. Fish were sampled in July 2003, 2004, and 2005 (only Baird because of extreme heat and low flows) during summer low flow conditions using a stream or backpack electrofisher. At least two stations were sampled in each watershed. Fish were identified, counted, weighed and measured, and then returned to the stream unharmed. An Index of Biological Integrity (IBI) was calculated using standardized protocols developed by the Wisconsin DNR. Invertebrate replicate samples were collected from riffles in each stream using Hess samplers. The Family Biotic Index (FBI) was used to calculate a water quality rating. Habitat data for the study streams were collected in 2003 and 2004 and scores were calculated according to the Wisconsin DNR Guidelines for Evaluating Fish Habitat in Wisconsin Streams. This method incorporates eight parameters including hydrology, substrate, fish cover, and riparian vegetation.

Results: Fish IBI scores ranged from 10 (very poor) to 30 (fair), with most streams rated “poor”. These numbers indicate that these streams are facing significant stress from their watersheds. In general, habitat scores rated from fair to good for all streams in both 2003 and 2004. This suggests that the low fish IBI scores are likely the result of poor water quality rather than the result of poor habitat conditions alone. Invertebrate composition and abundance varied greatly among sites and between years (see Figure 3 poster). This is not unusual, because invertebrate abundance changes naturally as individuals progress through the different stages of their lives and move from aquatic to terrestrial stages (e.g. midge larvae become pupae and then emerge as adult flies and leave the stream to reproduce). FBI values have also varied between years (see figure below). In 2003 and 2004, most of the species found were tolerant to organic pollution (i.e. high FBI values) and as a result the study streams were rated as either fairly poor or poor in both years. This indicated that there were significant stresses in the ecosystem that are affecting the aquatic invertebrates. These data also suggest that water quality factors, like low oxygen levels, may be responsible for the low integrity of the biological community. In 2005, FBI values for several streams changed dramatically. However, the invertebrate compositions of these streams were dominated by single families. Apple, Ashwaubenon, & Baird streams were dominated by family Asellidae (highly tolerant) and FBI scores increased, rating the streams between poor and very poor. The biotic integrity of Duck Creek improved, where increased abundance of the dominant intolerant family (Baetidae) drove the FBI score down and resulted in a rating of very good. Due to the dominance of these single families, collection dates may have contributed to the changing FBI scores in 2005 because of dynamic lifecycles of aquatic invertebrates.

The biological monitoring activities were extended as part of a research study conducted on Baird Creek during the summer of 2005 that focused on the effects of land use patterns, riparian fragmentation and non-point source pollution on the creek. More information about this study can be found in the following posters: (2004 update; 2005 update; 2006 update).

Monitoring Results – Annual Flow, Precip., TSS and Phosphorus: WY 2004 WY 2005 WY 2006: Five USGS continuous monitoring stations within the Lower Fox Basin have been installed through the project. Three to eleven years of data beginning in October 2003 have been gathered from the following stations:
1) Duck Creek at CTH FF (276 sq. km; 2004-08) - (upgraded with sampler, co-sponsored by Oneida Tribe)
2) Baird Creek at Superior Road (54 sq. km; 2004-13)
3) Apple Creek at CTH U / Campground (117 sq. km; 2004-06)
4) Ashwaubenon Creek at Creamery Road (48 sq. km; 2004-06)
5) East River at Monroe Street (374 sq. km; 2004-07) - (co-sponsored by the GBMSD)
6) Plum Creek at CTH D (58 sq. km; 2011-13)

Stream flow and water-quality gaging stations were installed on Apple Creek, Ashwaubenon Creek and Baird Creek. A water-quality sampler was installed at Duck Creek. Stream flow measurements were made at all sites to determine stage–discharge relations. An acoustic velocity meter (AVM) and water-quality sampler were installed at East River . About 290 water-quality samples were collected during events and low flow conditions and analyzed for total suspended solids (TSS) and total phosphorus (TP) in 2005, compared to 480 samples in 2004. About 84 samples were analyzed for dissolved phosphorus (DP) in 2005, compared to 210 samples in 2004. The USGS computed daily TP and TSS loads for each stream, and will estimate DP loads. TSS concentrations have also been correlated with turbidity data from sondes operated by UW-Milwaukee. Monitoring results from this project are included in the following USGS publications: USGS Water Resources Data, Wisconsin,Water Year 2004, Water-Data Report WI-04-1, Water Year 2005, Water-Data Report WI-05-1, Water Year 2006, Water-Data Report WI-06-1, Middleton, WI.

Monitoring Results – USGS/UWGB Report. Hydrology, phosphorus, and suspended solids in five agricultural streams in the Lower Fox River and Green Bay Watersheds, Wisconsin, Water Years 2004–06: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5111, 28 pages. Grayczyk, D.J., Robertson, D.M., Baumgart, P.D., and Fermanich, K.J., 2012. Abstract:: A 3-year study was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to characterize water quality in agricultural streams in the Fox/Wolf watershed in northeastern Wisconsin and provide information to assist in the calibration of a watershed model for the area. Streamflow, phosphorus, and suspended solids data were collected between October 1, 2003 and September 30, 2006 in five streams, including Apple Creek, Ashwaubenon Creek, Baird Creek, Duck Creek, and the East River. During this study, total annual precipitation was close to the 30-year normal of 29.12 inches. The 3-year mean streamflow was highest in the East River (113 ft3/s), followed by Duck Creek (58.2 ft3/s), Apple Creek (26.9 ft3/s), Baird Creek (12.8 ft3/s), and Ashwaubenon Creek (9.11 ft3/s). On a yield basis, during these three years, the East River had the highest flow (0.78 ft3/s/mi2), followed by Baird Creek (0.61 ft3/s/mi2), Apple Creek (0.59 ft3/s/mi2), Duck Creek (0.54 ft3/s/mi2), and Ashwaubenon Creek (0.46 ft3/s/mi2). The overall median total suspended solids (TSS) concentration was highest in Baird Creek (73.5 mg/L), followed by Apple and Ashwaubenon Creeks (65 mg/L), East River (40 mg/L), and Duck Creek (30 mg/L). The median total phosphorus (TP) concentration was highest in Ashwaubenon Creek (0.60 mg/L), followed by Baird Creek (0.47 mg/L), Apple Creek (0.37 mg/L), East River (0.26 mg/L), and Duck Creek (0.22 mg/L). The average annual TSS yields ranged from 111 tons/mi2 in Apple Creek to 45 tons/mi2 in Duck Creek. All five watersheds yielded more TSS than the median value (32.4 tons/mi2) from previous studies in the Southeastern Wisconsin Till Plains (SWTP) ecoregion. The average annual TP yields ranged from 663 lbs/mi2 in Baird Creek to 382 lbs/mi2 in Duck Creek. All five watersheds yielded more TP than the median value from previous studies in the SWTP ecoregion, and the Baird Creek watershed yielded more TP than the statewide median of 650 lbs/mi2 from previous studies. Overall, Duck Creek had the lowest median and volumetric weighted concentrations and mean yield of TSS and TP. The same pattern was true for dissolved phosphorus (DP), except the volumetrically weighted concentration was lowest in the East River. In contrast, Ashwaubenon, Baird, and Apple Creeks had greater median and volumetrically weighted concentrations and mean yields of TSS, TP, DP than Duck Creek and the East River. Water quality in Duck Creek and East River were distinctly different from Ashwaubenon, Baird, and Apple Creeks. Loads from individual runoff events for all of these streams were important to the total annual mass transport of the constituents. On average, about 20 percent of the annual TSS loads and about 17 percent of the TP loads were transported in 1-day events in each stream.

Phosphorus Forms at Different Spatial Scales: Phosphorus from agricultural runoff is a major concern to the quality of our water resources. The effectiveness of phosphorus reduction strategies may depend on whether phosphorus (P) is in the dissolved (DP) or particulate phase as it leaves the source area. Understanding the form in which P leaves source areas and is transported by streams is critical for predicting the fate of P using computer simulation models. In many watershed studies, particulate phosphorus (PP) is the dominate form of P. However, past monitoring of rural streams in the Lower Fox River sub-basin in northeastern Wisconsin has found mean concentrations of DP representing from 45% to 75% of the total P (TP) concentration. This study was conducted to better understand P forms in tributaries of the Lower Fox River, to determine how the DP fraction changes along a flow path at different scales, and to assess the Wisconsin Phosphorus-Index (WI-PI) on multi-field watersheds in the Apple Creek watershed.

Automated monitoring stations were installed on four Lower Fox River tributaries in September of 2003. Three water years of event and low-flow samples were collected and analyzed for total suspended solids, TP, and DP. In conjunction with the automated monitoring station, event grab samples were collected near peak flow at 11 multi-field (0.25 to 2.5 sq. km) and four integrator (12 to 87 sq. km) sites in the Apple Creek Watershed. Across the four sites, the TP concentration during event flows was made up of approximately equal portions of PP and DP (36% to 66% DP fraction). DP loads ranged from 36% to 52% of the TP load in 2004 and from 49% to 63% in the following 2 years. Duck Creek had the consistently lowest concentrations and yields of P and suspended solids among the four tributaries. For five runoff events in Apple Creek during 2004, median TP was 0.46 mg/L from multi-field sub-watershed sites, 0.48 mg/L from integrator sites, and 0.43 mg/L from the main stem. Median DP percentage was 39% from source areas, 41% from integrator sites, and 44% at the main stem. The median DP percentage for the five events at each source area site, varied greatly (13% to 83%). The portion of DP in a snowmelt and a low intensity event in 2006 were twice the median from earlier events. Area-weighted WI-PI (SnapPlus) values were compared to P concentrations from event monitoring at multi-field sub-watersheds. Field management data, including crop rotation, nutrient applications, and tillage practices were collected from nutrient management plans. The WI-PI was unable to predict the TP and PP losses. However, a strong relationship was found between DP concentration in surface water and soluble P-Index values. It appears that the factors affecting variability in DP export between source areas are reasonably described by the WI-PI.

This project is part of a Master’s thesis in 2007 by Nick Reckinger (Thesis & abstract), a graduate student in the Environmental Science and Policy Program at UW-Green Bay. See the following additional reports for further information: AWRA (abstract, presentation); Symposium Poster; Annual Reports (2005, 2006); Phosphorus Reports.

Total Suspended Solids - Turbidity Relationship: To estimate sediment loading, total suspended solids (TSS) and turbidity were sampled with automated sampling equipment within the Lower Fox River watershed in northeastern Wisconsin. Knowledge of sediment loading is fundamental to assessing non-point source pollution. However, collection and analysis of sediment samples is costly. These costs could be reduced if TSS could be accurately estimated from continuously monitored turbidity. This poster presents 2003-2004 turbidity and storm event sample data for Apple, Ashwaubenon, Baird, and Duck Creeks. Displayed are comparisons between sites, and within site comparisons for seasonality, rising versus falling stage, and event versus low flow. The water sample collection and analysis adhered to established USGS methods. YSI-6200 multi-parameter sondes were deployed for continuous turbidity measurement. Linear regression (R2) ranged from 0.78-0.98 for the different streams. We hypothesize that the weaker relationships are due to variances in hydrologic response and watershed land use. Also, certain sonde data were excluded due to equipment-associated false spikes in turbidity. In conclusion, continuous monitoring of turbidity appears to offer a viable alternative for TSS estimation in these Lower Fox River watershed locales. Evaluation of pollutant transport under changing land use could be accelerated with this straightforward information alternative.