Niagara River AOC-wide Benthos BUI Assessment

Science Center Objects

A USGS biologist prepares to collect a sediment sample using a petit ponar dredge. Background:The Niagara River forms the boundary between the United States and Canada and was designated as a binational Area of Concern (AOC) in 1987 because past industrial discharges and hazardous waste sites had caused extensive degradation of aquatic habitats. Within the United States (eastern) portion of the...

Image of a USGS biologist prepares to collect a sediment sample using a petit ponar dredgeA USGS biologist prepares to collect a sediment sample using a petit ponar dredge.

Background:The Niagara River forms the boundary between the United States and Canada and was designated as a binational Area of Concern (AOC) in 1987 because past industrial discharges and hazardous waste sites had caused extensive degradation of aquatic habitats. Within the United States (eastern) portion of the AOC, seven Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs) have been identified, including the degradation of the “benthos”, or the benthic macroinvertebrate community. Past assessments of macroinvertebrate community structure and sediment toxicity, which indicated that macroinvertebrate communities were adversely affected by contaminated bed sediments, provided the rationale for this BUI (NYSDEC, 1994, 2012). Contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and hexachlorocyclohexane are believed to be among the primary causes of impairment to this assemblage. An assessment of sediment toxicity in tributaries to the Niagara River was conducted recently (George et al., 2016) but little information is known about the condition of benthic macroinvertebrate communities in the mainstem of the Niagara River. This problem is compounded by the fact that large portions of the Niagara River do not contain deposits of fine sediment and thus an assessment of this community is challenging.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) recently completed a substrate characterization of the entire upper Niagara River and thus the locations of fine sediment are now known with relative certainty. Furthermore, the USACE is in the process of analyzing sediment chemistry from many of these fine sediment deposits. Using this information, the U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the USACE, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, plan to collect sediment samples for (a) macroinvertebrate community assessment and (b) sediment toxicity tests.

Objective: Determine if the benthos BUI is still warranted in the Niagara River AOC by evaluating macroinvertebrate community condition and sediment toxicity.

Approach: The USGS and the NYSDEC will collect sediment samples from approximately 60 locations within the AOC for assessment of macroinvertebrate community condition and sediment toxicity tests. Using the results of the USACE sediment chemistry assessment, 30 sampling sites will be selected with low contaminant levels to serve as reference sites and 30 sites will be selected with high contaminant levels. Samples for macroinvertebrate community assessment will be sieved to retain only detritus and organisms, preserved with 95% ethanol, and sent to a contract laboratory for specimen enumeration and identification. The resulting data will be analyzing using the standard NYSDEC metrics (Smith et al., 2014) – specifically the Ponar Biological Assessment Profile (BAP). Samples for sediment toxicity testing will be stored on ice and shipped to a contract laboratory to initiate 10-day bioassays using Chironomus dilutus and Hyalella azteca. The resulting data from each assessment will be used to reevaluate the benthos BUI in the Niagara River AOC.

References:

George, S.D., Baldigo, B.P., Duffy, B.T., 2016. Toxicity of bed sediments from the Niagara River Area of Concern and tributaries, New York, to Chironomus dilutus and Hyalella azteca, 2014–15. U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 1016, 8 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ds1016.

NYSDEC, 1994. Niagara River Remedial Action Plan Summary. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, p. 123.

NYSDEC, 2012. Remedial Action Plan Stage 2 Addendum: Niagara River Area of Concern. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, p. 40.

Smith, A.J., Heitzman, D.L., Lojpersberger, J.L., Duffy, B.T., Novak, M.A., 2014. Standard operating procedure: biological monitoring of surface waters in New York State. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Albany, NY, p. 171.

Project Location by County

Erie County, NY, Niagara County, NY