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The Midwest Stream Quality Assessment—Influences of human activities on streams

April 16, 2018

Healthy streams and the fish and other organisms that live in them contribute to our quality of life. Extensive modification of the landscape in the Midwestern United States, however, has profoundly affected the condition of streams. Row crops and pavement have replaced grasslands and woodlands, streams have been straightened, and wetlands and fields have been drained. Runoff from agricultural and urban land brings sediment and chemicals to streams. What is the chemical, physical, and biological condition of Midwestern streams? Which physical and chemical stressors are adversely affecting biological communities, what are their origins, and how might we lessen or avoid their adverse effects?

In 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted the Midwest Stream Quality Assessment to evaluate how human activities affect the biological condition of Midwestern streams. In collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Rivers and Streams Assessment, the USGS sampled 100 streams, chosen to be representative of the different types of watersheds in the region. Biological condition was evaluated based on the number and diversity of fish, algae, and invertebrates in the streams. Changes to the physical habitat and chemical characteristics of the streams—“stressors”—were assessed, and their relation to landscape factors and biological condition was explored by using mathematical models. The data and models help us to better understand how the human activities on the landscape are affecting streams in the region.