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Assessment of conservation management practices on water quality and observed trends in the Plum Creek Basin, 2010–20

May 4, 2023

The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Wisconsin–Green Bay collected hydrologic and water-quality data to assess the effectiveness of agricultural conservation management practice (CMP) implementation at mainstem Plum Creek and west Plum Creek in northeastern Wisconsin. These two subbasins cover 88 percent of the Plum Creek Basin (Hydrologic Unit Code 12), which is a subbasin of the lower Fox River Basin. A published total maximum daily load report for the lower Fox River Basin rated Plum Creek as one of the greatest contributors of total suspended solids (TSS) and total phosphorus (TP) draining into the lower Fox River. To reduce TSS and TP exports from Plum Creek, additional cropland conservation practices and watercourse protections were applied between 2012 and 2020. To detect water-quality trends, data were collected during 2010 to 2020 at mainstem Plum Creek and 2013 to 2020 at west Plum Creek.

The project used two methods to evaluate CMP effectiveness. The first method focused on evaluating water-quality changes between initial and post-CMP implementation periods during rain- or snowmelt-induced runoff events (hereafter referred to as “events”). In this approach random-forest models were developed to account for environmental factors which influence water quality. Model residuals from the two time periods were compared to determine the significance of water-quality changes associated with CMP implementation for mainstem and west Plum Creek Basins. The second method used a Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season time-series approach to examine changes in water quality during the entire study period in mainstem Plum Creek. Results from both methods indicated there were minimal water-quality changes in TSS concentrations and flow-normalized delivery during runoff events during the 10-year period from 2010 to 2020; however, TP concentrations during low streamflow (less than 3 cubic feet per second [ft3/s]) may have decreased. The lack of observed improvement may be attributable to any of the following: variability in weather and hydrologic conditions, insufficient post-treatment data, additional cropland being converted to corn production, above average rainfall, streambank degradation, acute and legacy sources of phosphorus from farm fields, excessive/vulnerable manure applications and spills, and point-source discharges.

Publication Year 2023
Title Assessment of conservation management practices on water quality and observed trends in the Plum Creek Basin, 2010–20
DOI 10.3133/sir20235043
Authors Judy A. Horwatich, Kevin Fermanich, Matthew A. Pronschinske, Dale M. Robertson, Sarah Kussow, Luke C. Loken, Paul C. Reneau, Jeremy Freund, Matthew J. Komiskey
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5043
Index ID sir20235043
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Water Science Center