Water Quality in the Great and Little Miami River Basins

Questions you might be asking . . . .

 

 

About Great and Little Miami River Basins Study-Unit data

 

1. What types of data were collected for the study, and where can I find the data?

 

2. How will the data be used?

 

3. Are data available for my stream? How could I find out more?

 

4. Was bacteria, septic-system, and sewer information collected for the study?

 

5. Why doesn’t NAWQA typically use historical data or data from other agencies?  Were historical data and data from other agencies used in the Great and Little Miami study?

 

6. Overall, is water quality in the Study Unit improving or getting worse?

 

 

About human and aquatic-life health

 

7. What are the human and aquatic health concerns for pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), synthetic organic compounds (SOCs) and metals in sediment, fish tissue, and/or water?

 

8. What are the human and aquatic health concerns for nitrate, radon, and arsenic?

 

9. If I am currently being served by a water company that uses public-supply wells, is my drinking water safe?

 

10. Few of the pesticide breakdown products, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, and wastewater compounds do not have drinking-water standards or aquatic-life guidelines associated with them. Does this mean that the water is safe to drink if these compounds are present?

 

11. How does the presence of all these contaminants affect the recreational quality of the streams in the Study Unit? (fishing, canoeing, swimming, etc.)

 

12. Why were algae used to determine the “health” of streams?

 

13. Because aquatic-life guidelines have been exceeded in samples, have there been any physical effects on fish and fish communities in the Study Unit?

 

 

About agricultural chemicals

 

14. Is atrazine a problem in the Study Unit?

 

15. If banned, why was the organochlorine insecticide dieldrin so commonly detected in fish tissue and bed sediment?

 

16. Why does this report have so much written about glyphosate if it was infrequently detected in streams and not detected in ground water?  

 

17. Herbicides in streams look to be drastically high in the Stillwater Basin. Is anything being done to address this finding?

 

18. Why is there so much information in the report about nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) in the report?  What are the primary sources of nutrients in the Study Unit?  

 

 

About other types of chemicals

 

19. Why is information in the report on synthetic organic compounds (SOCs), semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) presented separately if they are all organic compounds?  

 

20. Why were more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in streams than in ground water?

 

21. Why were many of the organic compounds detected in fish and streambed sediment not examined in the water samples?  

 

22. Was there a correlation between contaminant concentrations in sediment and fish tissue?

 

23. Why were elevated PCB concentrations found in fish tissue and not in sediment?

                               

24. You say that further investigation of arsenic in the buried valley aquifer is warranted.  Is any investigation actually being done?

 

About NAWQA

 

25. What is NAWQA? How many other NAWQA studies are there and where?

 

26. How does this study differ from those conducted by other agencies and universities in the Ohio and Indiana?

 

27. What happens next?

 

* * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * *

About Great and Little Miami River Basins Study-Unit data

 

1. What types of data were collected for the study, and where can I find the data?

The types of data collected are shown on p. 30 (Study Unit Design) of the report “Water Quality in the Great and Little Miami River Basins, Ohio and Indiana, 1999–2001” (USGS Circular 1229) (Give web link to report, specifically p. 30).  Data can be retrieved from the USGS database, NWISWeb (National Water Information System-Web) at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis, the NAWQA Data Warehouse (http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/sumr/04nr/dataWarehouse.pdf) at http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/data, or in our Water Resources Data, Ohio, annual reports for 1999–2002. 

 

2. How will the data be used?

The information from NAWQA studies is used by Federal, state and local agencies, tribes, universities, public interest groups, and the private industry to manage the Nation's water resources. The information is useful in addressing current issues, such as the effects of agricultural and urban-land use on water quality, human health, drinking water, source-water protection, hypoxia, and excessive growth of algae and plants, pesticide registration, and monitoring and sampling strategies.

 

Examples of some programs the water-quality information is used for include

·         Total  Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)

·         Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP)

·         Wellhead Protection

·         Best Management Practices (BMPs)

 

3. Are data available for my stream? How could I find out more?

Look on the Web at http://oh.water.usgs.gov/, under “Projects and Programs—The Great and Little Miami River (MIAM) Basins.”

 

4. Was bacteria, septic-system, and sewer information collected for the study?

Stream-water samples at 40 sites were analyzed for the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and enterococci. Also, immediately after a large storm from May 19 to 20, 2000, a total of 30 stream samples in the Stillwater River Basin were analyzed for Campylobacter and Salmonella bacteria, in addition to E. coli and enterococcus bacteria, nutrients, and antibiotics, to look at water quality in a basin with large number of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Ground-water samples were not analyzed for bacteria. Information about the presence or absence of septic systems or sewers within 500 meters (1,640 feet) of the well sampled in the Study Unit was collected.

 

5. Why doesn’t NAWQA typically use historical data or data from other agencies?  Were historical data and data from other agencies used in the Great and Little Miami study?

NAWQA samples are collected by strict procedures and analyzed with specific methods. The USGS typically does not use water-quality data from other agencies in NAWQA studies because the procedures used to collect samples and methods used to analyze the samples are unknown or different from NAWQA protocols and would limit our ability to compare data from one NAWQA Study Unit to another. For example, raw, untreated water samples are almost always collected by NAWQA studies; however, other agencies often collect and analyze treated water, so the data would not be usable for NAWQA studies.

 

In this study, however, existing ecological data were gathered from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) Division of Surface Water—Monitoring and Assessment Section and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources prior to fish sampling to identify all fish species known or expected to occur in the Study Unit; such data can be helpful with the identification of problematic species, new species, or protected species that must be quickly processed and returned to the stream. This list also provides information in determining what species should be targeted for fish-tissue analyses. In addition, bed-sediment and fish-tissue data from state-agency investigations within the Study Unit were incorporated with NAWQA data to gain a broader perspective of the occurrence and distribution of contaminants in the area. Finally, benthic-invertebrate and fish-community data collected by Ohio EPA at 29 stream sites in the Great and Little Miami River Basins were used to supplement NAWQA data collected as part of a low-flow study in summer 2001.  This synoptic study was designed to assess the effects of urbanization on stream quality and aquatic-community response.

 

6. Overall, is water quality in the Study Unit improving or getting worse?

Because the just completed cycle of study was the first for the Great and Little Miami River Basins area, we don’t have much trend information at this point. Continued monitoring of the area over the coming years will hopefully reveal such trends. From some of our examination of past data from other sources, however, we can see a couple areas of improvement. For one, the makeup of the fish community has changed slightly in the past decade or so in a way that suggests an improvement in water quality; but there are still far fewer species today than were reported for area streams in the early days of settlement (More information about fish tissue analyses and results is available in a report by Stephanie Janosy at    http://oh.water.usgs.gov/reports/wrir/wrir02-4305.pdf ). Also noted has been a substantial decrease in phosphorus in the Great Miami River, which probably reflects the combined effects of improved treatment of wastewater, lower phosphate content of dishwashing and laundry detergents and improved management of fertilizer applications to agricultural lands. (More information about nutrient results is available in a report by David Reutter at http://oh.water.usgs.gov/reports/wrir/wrir02-4297.pdf.)  

 

 

About human and aquatic-life health

 

7. What are the human and aquatic health concerns for pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), synthetic organic compounds (SOCs) and metals in sediment, fish tissue, and/or water?

 

Contaminants in sediment are not a direct issue for human health, but they can be an indirect problem if local fish are accumulating these chemicals via contact with the sediments or feeding on sediment-dwelling organisms or other fish that have become contaminated. In places where contamination of fish is a concern, fish-consumption advisories usually are put into effect. Besides building up in the bodies of aquatic organisms, these chemicals can directly affect the health of the organisms. The Canadian sediment guidelines quoted in the summary report were developed in response to concerns about aquatic-organism health.

 

Contaminated water raises similar concerns as contaminated sediment with regard to aquatic organisms, and aquatic-health-related criteria for water quality have been developed for some these chemicals (but not all of them). Contaminated water raises additional concern for human health if the water is used as a drinking-water supply. Federal and state drinking-water standards are enforced for a wide variety of these chemicals; but, like for the aquatic-life criteria, not all of the many possible contaminants have a standard. The drinking-water standards for Ohio can be found on the Ohio EPA’s  Web site (http://www.epa.state.oh.us/ddagw/oac.html). National drinking-water standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) can be found at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/mcl.html#mcls . To find out how well your local water utility is meeting the guidelines, you can contact the utility directly—public water suppliers are required by law to test water with reference to drinking-water standards and to make the results available to the public.

 

8. What are the human and aquatic health concerns for nitrate, radon, and arsenic?

These three contaminants are basically a concern for water as opposed to sediment and for humans as opposed to other animals. Too much nitrate in drinking water can result in methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome,” a serious and sometimes fatal reaction that affects primarily infants and others whose immune systems are compromised. Radon has been linked to lung cancer, so its presence in water is a concern largely as a source of release into the indoor atmosphere. Arsenic in drinking water has been linked to multiple health problems, including bladder, lung, and skin cancer; cardiovascular disease; diabetes; and neurological dysfunction. Federal and state drinking-water standards have been established for all three contaminants.

 

9. If I am currently being served by a water company that uses public-supply wells, is my drinking water safe?

The purpose of our study was to analyze raw, untreated water. Therefore, treated drinking water was not analyzed in the study (except in a pesticide study in which 21 water samples were collected before and after treatment from Harsha Lake in Clermont County, Ohio). Public water suppliers are required to have the drinking water analyzed four times per year. Also, public water suppliers are required to post advisories in the local newspapers when a primary drinking-water standard has been exceeded and conditions constitute a possible health hazard. A list of public water systems in Ohio is available on the Web at http://www.epa.state.oh.us/ddagw/filedl.html. Many of the public water systems in Ohio list results of their water analysis on their Web site. Contact your water supplier for more information.  Results of water analysis for public water suppliers in Indiana are available at http://www.in.gov/apps/idem/sdwis_state/. Some public water suppliers include the water-analysis results in the water utility bill.

 

10. Few of the pesticide breakdown products, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, and wastewater compounds have drinking-water standards or aquatic-life guidelines associated with them. Does this mean that the water is safe to drink if these compounds are present?

Currently (2004), the health implications of trace levels of these chemicals in our drinking water is largely unknown. Other Federal organizations, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Health, are responsible for determining these health issues. The NAWQA program provides these organizations information about the occurrence and distribution of these compounds in our Nation’s water supply.

 

11. How does the presence of all these contaminants affect the recreational quality of the streams in the Study Unit? (fishing, canoeing , swimming, etc.)

In many cases, recreation is unaffected by the chemicals found in the Study Unit because contact with the water (as opposed to drinking of the water) is not really an issue. Bacteria and viruses remain the major health-related problem with water-contact recreation. The bacterial condition of most streams is unknown, but managers of certain recreation areas along streams may sample the recreational reach for bacterial quality and issue advisories as necessary. Synthetic organic chemicals and trace elements can affect the safety of fish for consumption, so anglers should consult the Ohio EPA at http://www.epa.state.oh.us/dsw/fishadvisory/index.html to see whether a fish-consumption advisory is in effect for the water body of interest.

 

12. Why were algae used to determine the “health” of streams?

Algae are very sensitive to water chemistry and habitat disturbance, and they have a long history of being used in water-quality monitoring. They also play an important role in stream ecosystem functioning, being a source of food and oxygen and providing habitat to other organisms, such as nonphotosynthetic bacteria, protists, invertebrates, and fish. Along with fish and benthic invertebrates, algae’s crucial role in stream ecosystems and their excellent indicator properties make algae a necessary component of environmental studies that assess human impacts on stream health.

 

13. Because aquatic-life guidelines have been exceeded in samples, have there been any physical effects of fish in the basin?

Aquatic-life guidelines are established to protect wildlife species from adverse effects such as mortality, reproductive impairment, and organ damage. In one part of the study, fish were examined for external deformities, eroded fins, lesions, and visible tumors (DELT anomalies) during sampling; a weak but significant correlation was found between these physical symptoms and the benthic invertebrate pesticide toxicity index (PTI), a composite measure of the toxicity of pesticides found in a stream-water sample. Also, Ohio EPA has reported that high nutrient levels in streams in the Great and Little Miami River Basins were associated with higher rates of DELT anomalies in fish.

 

 

About agricultural chemicals

 

14. Is atrazine a problem in the Study Unit?

As stated in the report, atrazine is the most heavily applied pesticide to agricultural lands in the Study Unit and was one of the pesticides most commonly detected in streams and ground water. However, the detection level of atrazine used in this study (typically 0.001 microgram per liter (µg/L) or about 0.001 part per billion) was much lower than the USEPA drinking-water standard of 3 µg/L for atrazine. With the exception of the storm-runoff study in the Stillwater River Basin, few samples had atrazine concentrations that exceeded this drinking-water standard. In addition, the Harsha Lake study demonstrated that public water suppliers can effectively remove most atrazine from their water source. Individuals should contact their local water suppliers regarding information on atrazine levels in their tap water. Individuals using a domestic water supply should contact their county health departments regarding information on how to get their water tested.

 

15. If banned, why was the organochlorine insecticide dieldrin so commonly detected in fish tissue and bed sediment?

High concentrations are likely because of dieldrin’s persistence and widespread use in the past, especially in regions high in corn production. Dieldrin binds tightly to soil and is stored in fat, so higher concentrations are found in fish tissue than in water or sediment. Dieldrin is a byproduct of the insecticide aldrin; therefore, elevated concentrations may reflect a combination of aldrin and dieldrin residues.

 

16. Why does this report have so much written about glyphosate if it was infrequently detected in streams and not detected in ground water? 

Glyphosate is listed as one of the top 10 herbicides applied to agricultural lands in the Great and Little Miami River Basins; however, its occurrence within these basins has not been widely examined until this study. Furthermore, applications of glyphosate in the Study Unit have continued to increase since the introduction of glyphosate-tolerant soybeans in 1995.  The laboratory method used to detect glyphosate was still in development at the time of sampling for this study and had a much higher method detection limit (1.0 micrograms per liter (µg/L)) in comparison to the other compounds analyzed. Because laboratory methods are now able to detect glyphosate at lower concentrations, future studies would likely show a higher number of glyphosate detections in samples collected from this Study Unit.

 

Glyphosate binds to soil and does not dissolve in water as easily as other pesticides. Therefore, it is not found in water as frequently as other pesticides.

 

17. Herbicides in streams look to be drastically high in the Stillwater Basin. Is anything being done to address this finding?

The streams within the Stillwater River Basin were sampled immediately after a storm during a month (May) in which many herbicides are applied to crop lands. There was an assumption that runoff from the storm would transport some of the pesticides into the streams. This sampling strategy was meant to determine the water-quality conditions of these streams at the “worst-case scenario.” Results from this study provided county agencies and farm bureaus information on the water-quality of the streams during these conditions. These local organizations can then use this information to design best management plans (BMPs) for the farmers in the Stillwater River Basin.  

 

18. Why is there so much information in the report about nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous)?  What are the primary sources of nutrients in the Study Unit? 

The term "nutrients" sounds like a good thing. Unfortunately, elevated concentrations of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in streams can have substantial environmental and economic consequences, in addition to human health concerns. Ingestion of drinking water with high nitrate concentrations can cause low oxygen levels in the blood of infants, a potentially fatal condition known as methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome.” Because of these health concerns, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) set the drinking-water standard for nitrate at 10 milligrams per liter.

 

Elevated nutrient concentrations can lead to excessive and unsightly growth of algae and other aquatic plants, which can clog water-intake pipes and filters and can interfere with recreational activities such as fishing, swimming, and boating. The decay of plants often results in foul odors, bad taste, and low dissolved oxygen concentrations in water (or hypoxia, which can cause fish kills).

 

Excessive growth of algae was found in some large streams with elevated nutrients and very little shade in the Great and Little Miami River Basins.

 

Streams draining agricultural land in the Great and Little Miami River Basins had the highest average concentration of nitrogen, whereas streams draining a mix of land uses had the highest average concentration of phosphorus. Runoff of commercial fertilizer and manure applied to agricultural lands is a major source of nitrogen to area streams, whereas wastewater-treatment discharges at Dayton and downstream from Dayton are a significant source of phosphorus.   

 

Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), mainly for poultry and swine, are concentrated in the northwestern part of the Study Unit, mostly in the Stillwater River Basin. Over the past few decades, animal production in this basin has paralleled the national trend of fewer, larger farms producing more animals.

 

Nitrate concentrations in 10 of 104 ground-water samples exceeded the USEPA drinking-water standard of 10 milligrams per liter, or about 10 parts per million. Concentrations of nitrate in water from shallow monitoring wells in agricultural areas were the highest among area wells and among the highest in the Nation as sampled by the USGS NAWQA Program. 

 

About other types of chemicals

 

19. Why is information in the report on synthetic organic compounds (SOCs), semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) presented separately if they are all organic compounds? 

SOCs are synthetic organic compounds that are sometimes further distinguished on the basis of their chemical and physical properties. Because of these differences in chemical and physical properties, they behave differently in the environment: some kinds of organic compounds can be found most readily in water samples, whereas others are typically found in sediments and fish tissue. Also, the sources of organic compounds differ, some being commonly associated with pest control and others with industrial processes. Details about the various subdivisions of organic chemicals can be found here.

 

20. Why are more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in streams than in ground water?

VOCs in ground water may be breaking down to carbon dioxide and water in the reducing environment in the aquifer. In addition, results could reflect sampling conditions, including periods of unusually heavy or light rain, and site proximity to residential and commercial land use.

 

21. Why were many of the organic compounds detected in fish and streambed sediment not examined in the water samples? 

These organic compounds were not examined in the water samples because they are not very soluble in water. Commonly, the organic compounds soluble in water are not soluble in fat (fish) or do not bind to sediment and vice versa. 

 

22. Was there a correlation between contaminant concentrations in sediment and fish tissue?

Relations between sediment and tissue concentrations are difficult to determine and were not attempted because of the many factors that affect the behavior, fate, and transport of trace elements and synthetic organic chemicals, including chemical speciation, water characteristics, physical features (such as dams), antagonistic effects, and adsorption and desorption rates. Fish species, migration, feeding preferences, metabolic rates and lipid (fat) content also must be taken into consideration.

 

Instead, sediment and tissue data from USGS, Ohio EPA, and Indiana Department of Environmental Management were compared to sediment-quality guidelines and fish-tissue guidelines to identify compounds that exceed published limits and, by means of occurrence and distribution maps, to identify areas that may be a concern for wildlife health. No distinct geographic overlap between sediment and fish-tissue sites was evident with respect to elevated organochlorine insecticide concentrations or PCBs.  (More information about fish tissue and sediment analyses and results is available in a report by Stephanie Janosy at http://oh.water.usgs.gov/reports/wrir/wrir02-4305.pdf ).

 

23. Why were elevated PCB concentrations found in fish tissue and not in sediment?

Fish are repeatedly exposed to contamination through different routes, including direct contact with contaminated sediment and consumption of contaminated plant or animal material. PCBs biomagnify, meaning they increase in concentration at higher levels in the food chain (for example, predators at the top of the food chain will have the highest levels, especially older fish). Two important factors contribute to the high detection of PCBs in the Study Unit: PCBs are hydrophobic (not very soluble in water) and strongly lipophilic (have an affinity for lipids, or fats). PCB concentrations can be fairly high in sediments that are high in organic-matter or clay content.

 

24. You say that further investigation of arsenic in the buried valley aquifer is warranted.  Is any investigation actually being done?

Further research on factors controlling arsenic in ground water is being conducted in Preble, Shelby, and Miami Counties by the USGS in cooperation with the Miami Conservancy District. Also, a report titled, “Arsenic in midwestern glacial deposits—Occurrence and relation to selected hydrogeologic and geochemical factors,” by Mary Ann Thomas, is available on the Web at http://water.usgs.gov/pubs/wri/wri034228/pdf/wri034228.pdf. This report is based on NAWQA data collected here and from wells screened in other glacial aquifer systems across the Midwest.

 

 

About NAWQA

 

25. What is NAWQA? How many other NAWQA studies are there and where?

NAWQA is an acronym for National Water-Quality Assessment. NAWQA is a National program in which USGS scientists collect and interpret data about water chemistry, hydrology, land use, stream habitat, and aquatic life in more than 50 river basins and aquifer systems (called Study Units) covering all 50 states. Because the same sample-collection procedures and methods are used in each Study Unit, water-quality results in different states, regions, land-use settings, ecoregions, and aquifer types across the Nation can be compared. Data from the NAWQA studies are used by local, state, and Federal agencies to manage our Nation’s water resources.  More information about the NAWQA program and specific Study Units are at http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/.

 

26. How does this study differ from those conducted by other agencies and universities in Ohio and Indiana?

Unlike many studies by state agencies and universities, NAWQA studies are part of a nationwide reconnaissance in which many target constituents and study methods are similar or identical. Because the all the Study Units have the same approach in common, current and future researchers have the opportunity for comparing the effects of various land-use settings on water quality without worrying whether differences in methodology are confounding differences they see in the data. NAWQA will also go a long way in helping us understanding water quality at national scale. The ability to integrate local and national scales of data collection and analysis is a unique feature of the USGS NAWQA Program. Additional information can be found here.

 

27. What happens next?

In 2001, the Great and Little Miami River Basin Study Unit was combined with the White River Study Unit in Indiana for the second cycle of NAWQA studies. The new Study Unit is known as the White River and Great and Little Miami River Basins. 

 

In NAWQA Cycle II studies, emphasis is placed on describing long-term trends, and understanding human and natural factors that control water quality. Long-term trends are studied by resampling stream and well sites established in Cycle I. These sites are part of the Trend Networks for Streams and Ground Water. The Effects of Land-Use Change on Water Quality Program looks more directly at effects of urbanization and agricultural management practices on water quality. Factors that control water quality are addressed with Topical Studies that not only focus on sources, transport processes, and effects but also address implications for water-quality management. The White River and Great and Little Miami River Basins Study Unit was selected for three topical studies.