Nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, are a leading cause of water-quality impairment in Kansas and the Nation. Indian Creek is one of the most urban drainage basins in Johnson County, Kansas, and environmental and biological conditions are affected by contaminants from point and other urban sources. The Johnson County Douglas L. Smith Middle Basin (hereinafter Middle Basin) wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) is the largest point-source discharge on Indian Creek. A second facility, the Tomahawk Creek WWTF, discharges into Indian Creek approximately 11.6 kilometers downstream from the Middle Basin WWTF. To better characterize the spatiotemporal variability of nutrients in Indian Creek, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Johnson County Wastewater, collected high-resolution spatial and temporal (a large number of samples collected over the entire reach or at single locations over a long period of time) inorganic nutrient (nitrate plus nitrite and orthophosphorus) data using a combination of discrete samples and sensor-measured data during 2012 through 2015.
Nutrient patterns observed in Indian Creek along the upstream-downstream gradient during wastewater effluent dominated streamflow conditions were largely affected by the WWTFs and by travel time of the parcels of water. Nitrate plus nitrite concentrations in the Middle Basin WWTF effluent and at downstream sites varied by as much as 6 milligrams per liter over a 24-hour period. The cyclical variability in the Middle Basin WWTF effluent generated a nitrate plus nitrite pulse that could be tracked for approximately 11.5 kilometers downstream in Indian Creek, until the effect was masked by the Tomahawk Creek WWTF effluent discharge. All longitudinal surveys showed the same general patterns along the upstream-downstream gradient, though streamflows, wastewater effluent contributions to streamflow, and nutrient concentrations spanned a wide range. Differences in orthophosphorus and nitrate plus nitrite patterns were clear along the upstream-downstream gradient in Indian Creek, and orthophosphorus concentrations were not as variable as nitrate plus nitrite concentrations. In general, nitrate plus nitrite concentrations decreased downstream from the Middle Basin WWTF to minima near the confluence with Tomahawk Creek, increased downstream from the Tomahawk Creek WWTF, and then varied little within the study reach. Orthophosphorus concentrations generally decreased downstream from the Middle Basin WWTF.
Despite the marked variability in nitrate plus nitrite concentrations caused by the Middle Basin WWTF effluent discharges, decreases in nitrate plus nitrite concentrations were discernable along the study reach between the two WWTFs. Decreases in nitrate plus nitrite concentrations along study reach were less variable than the cyclical variability typically measured, reiterating the effect of the Middle Basin WWTF effluent discharges on the spatiotemporal variability of nitrate plus nitrite in Indian Creek. Although decreases and rates of change in nitrate plus nitrite concentration were similar between the upper and lower reaches of Indian Creek, relations with initial nitrate plus nitrite concentrations and seasonal patterns were different between the upper (from College to the Marty study sites) and lower reaches (from Marty to the Mission Farms study sites) and did not reflect patterns observed for the overall reach. Quantifying the decreases in nitrate plus nitrite concentration caused by dilution and other in-stream processes were beyond the scope of this study, and were limited by available data. The data that are available suggest that dilution and other in-stream processes play a role in decreasing nitrate plus nitrite concentrations downstream from the Middle Basin WWTF in Indian Creek.
Analysis of the spatiotemporal variability of nutrients focused on below-normal and normal streamflow conditions, when streamflow and nutrient conditions in Indian Creek were largely controlled by WWTF effluent flows and nutrient removal processes. Spatial and temporal data indicate there are decreases in nutrient concentrations along the upstream-downstream gradient in Indian Creek, but quantifying decreases is complicated by the variability in nutrient concentrations caused by the WWTFs. During below-normal and normal streamflow conditions, Indian Creek nutrient concentrations downstream from the Middle Basin WWTF primarily reflect effluent concentrations in the hours or days before depending on relative distance downstream.
|Title||Spatiotemporal variability of inorganic nutrients during wastewater effluent dominated streamflow conditions in Indian Creek, Johnson County, Kansas, 2012–15|
|Authors||Guy M. Foster, Jennifer L. Graham, Thomas J. Williams, Lindsey R. King|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Kansas Water Science Center|