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Trends in environmental, anthropogenic, and water-quality characteristics in the upper White River Basin, Indiana

April 14, 2023

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy, undertook a study to update and extend results from a previous study (Koltun, 2019,, using data from 3 additional years and newer estimation methods. Koltun (2019) assessed trends in streamflow, precipitation, and estimated annual mean concentrations and flux of nitrate plus nitrite, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total suspended solids (TSS) for USGS streamflow gages on the upper White River at Muncie, near Nora, and near Centerton, Indiana. Annual mean and maximum daily streamflows had statistically significant upward trends at all study gages between water years 1978 and 2020. An abrupt increase in streamflow occurred around water year 2001. Annual total precipitation at the Indianapolis International Airport increased between calendar years 1932 and 2020 at an average rate of 0.089 inches per year.

The current study assessed the magnitude, direction, and likelihood of change in flow-normalized concentrations and flux of TSS, total phosphorus, nitrate plus nitrite, and total Kjeldahl nitrogen between water years 1997 and 2019. With two exceptions, concentration and flux changes that were statistically significant in Koltun (2019,, which reported changes between water years 1997 and 2017, still have the same statistically significant change directions. The reliability of the current trend result for TSS is uncertain because of a large gap in the TSS record for the Centerton gage.

For each constituent, spatial patterns were examined in the sampled distribution of nutrient and TSS concentration data from 20 mainstem, tributary, and distributary locations in the upper White River Basin. The largest median concentrations of TSS, total phosphorus, and total Kjeldahl nitrogen were associated with mainstem upper White River sites downstream from Indianapolis. The median total phosphorus and total Kjeldahl nitrogen concentrations were elevated relative to bracketing upstream/downstream mainstem sites at the upper White River site immediately downstream from Muncie.

Data on several anthropogenic factors that could influence the concentrations and fluxes of nutrients and TSS were gathered and analyzed to better understand the factors’ spatial and temporal variations. Those anthropogenic factors included population, land cover, cropping and operational tillage practices, fertilizer application, and upgrades to wastewater treatment systems and delivery processes.

Publication Year 2023
Title Trends in environmental, anthropogenic, and water-quality characteristics in the upper White River Basin, Indiana
DOI 10.3133/sir20235025
Authors G.F. Koltun
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5025
Index ID sir20235025
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center