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Hydrologic and ecological investigations in the School Branch watershed, Hendricks County, Indiana—Water years 2016–2018

October 5, 2021

School Branch in Hendricks County in central Indiana, is a small stream with a variety of agricultural and suburban land uses that drains into the Eagle Creek Reservoir, a major source of drinking water for Indianapolis, Indiana. The School Branch watershed has become the focus of a collaborative partnership of Federal, State, and local agencies; a university research center; and agricultural producers to understand the effects of land use and management practices on water quality and water quantity in the watershed. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, contributed to the School Branch partnership with the operation of three streamgages (03353415 School Branch at Maloney Road near Brownsburg, Indiana; 03353420 School Branch at County Road 750 North at Brownsburg, Indiana; and 03353430 School Branch at Noble Drive at Brownsburg, Indiana) and the operation of a continuous water-quality gage (also known as a supergage) at County Road 750 North that measured dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, specific conductance, turbidity, nitrate, and orthophosphate. Additional efforts included the use of passive samplers to identify wastewater indicators; assessment of fish and macroinvertebrate communities and stream habitat to identify ecological impairment; sampling for nutrients and sediment to estimate loads; and using major ions, stable isotopes and nested groundwater monitoring wells at County Road 750 North to determine hydrologic connectivity between the groundwater and surface water. The objectives of this study were to collect surface and groundwater data to analyze the hydrology and water quality within the watershed. Total nitrogen yields were highest at the upstream site, Maloney Road, and indicated a mixture of nitrogen sources in the watershed. Differences found in total nitrogen loading patterns throughout the watershed may be linked to differences in hydrology and land-use management from site to site. The groundwater and surface water were shown to be highly connected, and except for some low-flow periods, the water was flowing from groundwater to the stream for most of the study period. Fish and macroinvertebrate communities show improvement from upstream to downstream, with increases in diversity, richness, and species sensitive to poor water quality and habitat. These increases were most likely due to improved habitat quality at the downstream station.

Publication Year 2021
Title Hydrologic and ecological investigations in the School Branch watershed, Hendricks County, Indiana—Water years 2016–2018
DOI 10.3133/sir20215061
Authors Aubrey R. Bunch, Dawn R. McCausland, E. Randall Bayless
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2021-5061
Index ID sir20215061
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center