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Characterization of water quality, biology, and habitat of the Pearl River and selected tributaries contiguous to and within Tribal lands of the Pearl River Community of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, 2017–18

November 28, 2022

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (MBCI), conducted a baseline assessment of the physical, chemical, and biological quality of selected streams and rivers within and contiguous to the Pearl River Community (PRC) in 2017 and 2018. The MBCI is a federally recognized tribe with territories in Mississippi and Tennessee. MBCI Tribal government and communities have sovereign authority over their natural resources and are responsible for protecting the quality of waters within the Tribal lands from sources of pollution and restoring impaired waters. The quality of these surface waters has a profound effect upon the health and welfare of MBCI Tribal members. Data generated from this study may be used with other relevant water-quality data for comparison and development of Tribal water-quality standards.

The PRC territory is drained by the Pearl River and associated tributaries. Water-quality and biological samples were collected and habitat surveys were conducted at sites on the mainstem of the Pearl River and major tributaries of the Pearl River—Wolf Creek, Beasha Creek, Jones Creek, and Kentawka Creek. The selected stream sites represent a range of land use/land cover and potential sources of alteration and contamination from within their respective drainage areas. In particular, Wolf Creek watershed has the highest relative percentage of developed land.

Ambient physicochemical properties, major ions, nutrients, and organic wastewater compounds (OWCs) were analyzed quarterly from surface-water samples from October 2017 through August 2018. Physicochemical properties were also measured in June 2018 over a continuous 48-hour period. Trace elements and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were analyzed from streambed sediments in August 2018. Biological samples included the collection of periphyton algae (August 2018), benthic macroinvertebrate (March 2017 and March 2018), and fish communities (April 2018). Physical stream habitat characteristics were assessed using qualitative (March 2017 and March 2018) and quantitative surveys (August 2018).

While not directly applicable, the State of Mississippi Water Quality Standards were used as reference to evaluate Tribal water quality. Physicochemical water-quality constituents—water temperature, specific conductance (SC), pH, and dissolved oxygen (DO)—were generally within natural ranges among sites and samples, with a few exceptions that exceeded existing Mississippi water-quality standards. pH and DO periodically were below the minimum State standards at some sampled sites. Specific conductance was also relatively high at both Wolf Creek sites but did not exceed the existing maximum standard for recreational waters.

The surface water among stream sites was predominantly calcium bicarbonate type, with a shift toward sodium-bicarbonate water type at the downstream Wolf Creek (Wolf DS) site. Major ion concentrations were generally highest at the Wolf Creek sites. Nutrient concentrations were also often highest at Wolf DS, but total nitrogen and total phosphorus periodically exceeded recommended State and Federal nutrient criteria thresholds among most sampled sites. Twenty-nine OWCs, including 10 known or suspected endocrine disruptors, were detected among sites. Concentrations of OWCs were relatively low, and only 19 percent of all detections were above the reporting level.

Concentrations of copper and nickel in streambed sediments were detected above consensus-based threshold-effect concentrations (TECs) at one site each, and arsenic and chromium exceeded TECs at most sites. Concentrations of all polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in streambed sediments were low and well below TECs at all sites.

The periphyton, macroinvertebrate, and fish communities at most sampled sites appear typical of central Mississippi streams; however, the diversity, composition, and abundance of taxa sampled from Wolf DS were particularly distinctive compared to other sampled stream sites. Periphyton taxa richness was low at both Wolf Creek sites, and both sites had greater abundances of diatom taxa, which are indicative of high nutrient concentrations, than of soft-algae taxa. Similarly, Wolf DS had relatively low macroinvertebrate diversity, the fewest Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera taxa, a high abundance of Tubificid taxa, and the lowest overall Mississippi-Benthic Index of Stream Quality score. Fish species richness was also relatively low at Wolf DS compared to some other sampled sites.

Habitat characteristics also appeared to be generally typical of most central Mississippi streams. Qualitative habitat assessment scores were at or above the regional least disturbed streams for Wolf DS, the upstream Wolf Creek (Wolf US) site, and Jones Creek. Habitat scores among the remaining sites indicate fair conditions. Quantitative and qualitative habitat characteristics indicate relatively lower habitat quality at the two Beasha Creek sites.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Characterization of water quality, biology, and habitat of the Pearl River and selected tributaries contiguous to and within Tribal lands of the Pearl River Community of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, 2017–18
DOI 10.3133/sir20225090
Authors Lucas J. Driver, Matthew B. Hicks, Amy C. Gill
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5090
Index ID sir20225090
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center

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