Wisconsin Water Science Center

Water Quality

Water quality is measure of the suitability of water for a particular use based on selected physical, chemical, and biological characteristics. Water-quality monitoring is used to help water-resource managers understand and avert potential negative effects of man-made and natural stresses on water resources. The Wisconsin Water Science Center investigates water-quality issues using new technologies and techniques to study the physical, chemical, biological, geological interactions in rivers, streams, lakes, and groundwater in Wisconsin and across the Nation. Some of the issues we address include the occurrence, distribution, trends, and modeling of pollutants; the relationship between ecological responses and water quality; and the relationships between natural factors, land use, and water quality, in both rural and urban settings.

Browse WI WSC science related to:
Stream water quality
Lake water quality
Groundwater water quality
Urban water quality
Rural water quality

Filter Total Items: 45
Photo of a snow plow with a load of road salt
Date Published: March 26, 2016

Evaluating chloride trends due to road-salt use and its impacts on water quality and aquatic organisms

Chloride, a key component of road salt, is soluble, highly mobile in water, and, at high concentrations, can be toxic to aquatic vegetation and wildlife. USGS scientists have been analyzing temporal, seasonal, and environmental trends in chloride concentrations across the U.S. to determine the effects that road salt may be having on water quality and aquatic organisms.

Photo of the depth-integrated sample arm (DISA)
Date Published: March 25, 2016

Particle-size distribution from urban land use and source areas

Many control options for sediments and associated contaminants in storm-water runoff from urban areas rely on settling of solids. This study characterizes particle-size distributions in urban storm-water runoff from specific source areas and land-use categories, with the hopes of assisting watershed managers and engineers design better control devices for reducing sediment in urban runoff.

Final installation of permeable pavement study test plots
Date Published: March 24, 2016

Evaluating the potential benefits of permeable pavement on the quantity and quality of stormwater runoff

Permeable pavement is a porous urban surface which catches precipitation and surface runoff, storing it in the reservoir while slowly allowing it to infiltrate into the soil below. This study will evaluate how well different types of permeable pavement reduces the amount of pollutants and runoff volume.

Photgraph of USGS employee surveying snowbanks at General Mitchell International Airport
Date Published: March 23, 2016

Evaluating the impacts of aircraft deicers in runoff from General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee, Wis.

Chemicals used to deice planes at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee may be entering nearby streams in concentrations that may be harmful to aquatic life. This project will investigate the toxicity of decing chemicals, evaluate their impact on receiving streams, and assess changes in water quality in response to the implementation of deicer management at General Mitchell...

Contacts: Steven R Corsi
Photograph of Pheasant Branch Creek at U.S. Geological Survey streamflow-gaging station (05427948),
Date Published: March 22, 2016

Dane County water-quality monitoring program

Many Dane County, Wis., streams and lakes have been degraded due to excessive nutrients and sediment contributed primarily by agriculture and urbanization. The goal is to build a long-term base of streamflow, lake stage, and water-quality data essential for water-resource planning and assessment purposes for streams and lakes in Dane County, with a focus on the Yahara River Basin.

Photo of a boy playing in the water on a Wisconsin beach.
Date Published: March 21, 2016

Beach health in Wisconsin

Beach water-quality (beach health) data is collected both coastal and inland Wisconsin beaches. The data is collected and analyzed by multiple agencies throughout Wisconsin including local health departments, universities, state agencies, and federal agencies including the USGS.

Contacts: Steven R Corsi
Photo of edge-of-field subsurface tile and surface sites.
Date Published: March 20, 2016

Edge-of-field monitoring: Discovery Farms

The USGS is cooperating with Discovery Farms to understand agriculture’s impact on the environment and help producers find ways to minimize their impact while remaining economically viable. Edge-of-field or subsurface tile monitoring stations measure runoff-event volume, including snowmelt, and collect samples which are analyzed for suspended sediment, phosphorus, nitrogen, and chloride.

Aerial photograph of Pleasant Valley
Date Published: March 19, 2016

Upper Pecatonica River Wisconsin Buffer Initiative pilot project

The Upper Pecatonica River pilot project is testing targeted water-quality improvement strategies in small agricultural watersheds. The USGS is contributing by monitoring phosphorus and sediment at the watershed outlets, quantifying in-stream sources and sinks of phosphorus and sediment, and developing innovative approaches for quantifying sediment-related stream impairments and TMDLs.

Illustration showing potential sources of pathogen contamination for Lake Michigan beaches
Date Published: March 10, 2016

Environmental factors and risk estimation for waterborne pathogens at three Great Lakes beaches

The goals of this study were to quantify pathogen concentrations in water at three Lake Michigan beaches, identify environmental factors that influence pathogen occurrence and variability, and to estimate health risks for recreational swimmers.

Contacts: Steven R Corsi, Michelle A Lutz, Mark Borchardt, Tucker Burch, Susan Spencer
Figure showing the Mid-Continental SPARROW model study area, with monitoring sites identified.
Date Published: March 10, 2016

SPARROW nutrient modeling: Binational (US/Canada) models

SPARROW phosphorus and nitrogen models are being developed for the entire Great Lakes Basin and the Upper Midwest part of the U.S., and the Red and Assiniboine River Basin, as part of a Binational project between the USGS and the International Joint Commission (IJC) and National Research Council (NRC) of Canada.

Figure showing phosphorus delivered from throughout the MRB3 basin
Date Published: March 9, 2016

SPARROW nutrient modeling: Great Lakes, Ohio, Upper Mississippi, Red River Basins (MRB3)

SPARROW models for the Great Lakes, Ohio, Upper Mississippi and Red River Basins (MRB3) predict long-term average loads, concentrations, yields, and source contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Great Lakes.

Figure showing nutrient yields delivered from throughout the MARB to the Gulf of Mexico
Date Published: March 8, 2016

SPARROW nutrient modeling: Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB)

SPARROW models for the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) predict long-term average loads, concentrations, yields, and source contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico.