Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Newsletter

U.S. Department fo the Interior-U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Division


This is the first of a series of newsletters that are designed to inform interested individuals and organizations on the progress of the Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin study-unit investigations. This newsletter will describe the types of surface- and ground-water-quality studies that are being done or planned in 1996. The newsletter is in addition to the semiannual meetings of the Liaison Committee. The next Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin Liaison Meeting is planned for October 1996.


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began to implement a full-scale National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program in 1991. The long-term goals of the NAWQA program are to describe the status and trends in the quality of a large, representative part of the Nation's surface- and ground-water resources and to identify the major natural and human factors that affect the quality of these resources.
The Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin is one of 20 study units (from a total of 60 nationwide) that began assessment activities in 1994. The study unit is described in USGS Fact Sheet FS 94-056. As shown in figure 1, the study unit is an area of 22,300 square miles (mi2) that drains to, but does not include, the St. Clair R., Lake St. Clair, the Detroit R., Lake Erie, and the upper Niagara R. Principal streams are the Black, Clinton, Huron, and Raisin Rivers in Michigan, Maumee R. in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana; Sandusky, Cuyahoga, and Grand Rivers in Ohio, Cattaraugus Creek and Buffalo R. in New York.


The surface-water-quality sampling network is designed to assess the quality of streams, streambed sediment, and fish tissue, and to characterize aquatic biota. The network consists of 10 sites distributed in 7 of the principal river basins in the study unit (fig. 1).

The 10 fixed sampling sites in the surface-water-quality network represent a gradient across the study unit in streamflow, runoff, climate, stream-basin physiography, slope, bedrock and surficial geology, and land use. Collec tively, these factors are referred to as the environmental setting of these streams.


Figure 1. Surface-water quality and ecological sites. (Site numbers shown in blue indicate intensive fixed sites, those shown in black indicate basic fixed sites.)

1 Black R. at Jeddo, Mich.
2 Clinton R. at Sterling Heights, Mich.
3 R. Raisin near Manchester, Mich.
4 St. Joseph R. near Newville, Ind.
5 Maumee R. at New Haven, Ind.
6 Auglaize R. near Ft. Jennings, Ohio
7 Maumee R. at Waterville, Ohio
8 Cuyahoga R. at Cleveland, Ohio
9 Grand R. at Harpersfield, Ohio
10 Cattaraugus Ck. at Gowanda, N.Y.

Types of Fixed Sites

The 10 fixed sites are categorized in terms of environmental setting as either indicator or integrator sites. In dicator sites are in river basins with predominantly one environmental setting. Indicator basins are chosen to be as large and representative as possible while still encompassing primarily one environmental setting. Integrator sites are in large drainage basins that contain complex or multiple environmental settings. Most integrator sites drain a substantial part of the study unit, such as the Maumee R. Basin.

Indicator sites selected for this study are located on streams that drain areas of 136 to 610 mi2. Most citizens value these streams as important recreational resources for sport fishing, wading, canoeing, and aesthetic enjoy ment. In many cases, these streams are used for water supply.

Integrator sites selected for this study are located on the largest streams in the Basin that drain areas of 749 to 6,330 mi2. Like the indicator-sized streams, the integrator-sized streams are also of value and concern to most citizens, and some serve as important water supplies.

Of the 10 fixed sites selected for this study, 7 represent streams draining indicator basins and 3 represent streams/etc/fstab draining integrator basins. One indicator and one integrator fixed-site are in basins with predominantly urban land uses, six indicator sites are in basins with predominantly agricultural land uses, and two integrator sites are in basins with a combination of urban and agricultural land uses.

Sample Types and Frequencies

Water-quality data are being collected at fixed sites to characterize the concentrations and transport of inorganic and organic constituents in relation to broad-scale spatial and temporal hydrologic conditions within select ed environmental settings. Water-quality sampling began at the 10 sites shown in figure 1 during the first week of March 1996.

In 1996, all 10 fixed sites are being monitored at three different frequencies: (1) water temperature and streamflow are being recorded continuously, (2) water samples are collected monthly to biweekly, and (3) samples also are collected during periods of extreme high and low streamflows. Dissolved oxygen, pH, and specific conductance are measured on site and samples are subsequently analyzed for concentrations of calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and sulfate, inorganic and organic nitrogen and phosphorus, total and dissolved organic carbon, filterable residue, and fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria. This schedule of sampling is referred to as basic fixed-site sampling. Six of the 10 sites are to be sampled as basic fixed sites during the next 24 months which will provide about 36 samples per site for subsequentdata analysis and interpretation.

In addition, samples are being collected in 1996 at 6 of the 10 fixed sites for subsequent analysis of commonly-used pesticides as part of a special regional project in NAWQA study units in the midwestern corn belt.

Plans for 1997 are to sample 4 of the 10 fixed sites at a more intensive frequency than in 1996; thus they are called intensive fixed sites. At intensive fixed sites, specific conductance is recorded continuously along with temperature, and samples are collected weekly during selected seasonal periods to provide 32 samples per year for one year. These samples will be analyzed for currently-used pesticides in addition to the physical properties and chemical constituents analyzed routinely at basic fixed sites.


Fixed Site Descriptions

Each of the 10 fixed sites was selected to provide unique information regarding the effect of natural and human factors on water quality of streams in the Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin. Data from the 10 sites is planned for use by the NAWQA Program to prepare interpretive reports describing regional and National water-quality conditions.

Maumee River Basin

The Maumee River Basin was selected for study because it is the largest source of nutrients, pesticides, and sediment to Lake Erie. About 70 percent of the Basin is used for agriculture. Detailed information collected by NAWQA will complement data collected by other organizatins to characterize water quality of the lower mainstem at Waterville, Ohio. Sampling in the upper mainstem and largest tributaries will provide new information about the occurrence and distribution of fertilizers and currently-used pesticides and the relative importance of certain tributaries to the mass transport of contaminants in the Basin. A network of 4 fixed sites, 3 intensive fixed sites and 1 basic fixed site were selected for study in the Maumee R. Basin. The Maumee R.1 at Waterville, Ohio (7) and at New Haven, Ind. (5), are integrator sites. The Maumee R. at New Haven was selected as a basic fixed site to characterize the upstream quality in the mainstem and to integrate complex combinations of land use and geology in the St. Joseph R. and St. Marys R. Basins. The Maumee R. at Waterville was selected to integrate downstream quality in the river and represents nearly the entire Basin.

The St. Joseph R. (4) is the second largest tributary to the Maumee R. Information about the discharge of nutrients, sediment, and currently-used pesticides from this row-cropped agricultural basin is important because the St. Joseph R. is the water supply for about 250,000 people in Fort Wayne, Ind. The intensive fixed site is located on the St. Joseph R. near Newville, Ind., upstream from Ft. Wayne.

The Auglaize R. is the single largest tributary and known source of sediment to the Maumee R. The Auglaize R. near Ft. Jennings, Ohio (6) was selected to be an intensive fixed site draining a basin predominantly in row crops of corn and soybeans. The Auglaize R. differs from the St. Joseph R. in that the basin of the latter contains better drained soils and greater topographic relief. Therefore, the St. Joseph R. basin may have different runoff characteristics, contaminant concentrations, and sediment yields than the Auglaize R. Basin.

River Basins in Michigan

The Black R. at Jeddo, Mich., located in the thumb area of the Lower Peninsula, was selected to be a basic fixed site representing a basin that drains row-crops of corn and soybeans planted in very poorly drained clay soils of glaciolacustrine origin. Weather conditions are cooler and drier here than in other parts of the study unit. The R. Raisin near Manchester, Mich. (3) was selected to be a basic fixed site, representing a less intensive agricultural setting of row-crops, better drained soils, and greater topographic relief compared to the Black R. Basin.

The Clinton R. at Sterling Heights, Mich. (2), similar to the R. Raisin site in geology, was selected to be an intensive fixed site in a land-use setting that is predominantly residential and commercial. The Clinton R. is planned to be the focus of special studies of the occurrence and distribution of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in stream water.

River Basins In Northeastern Ohio and Western New York

The Cuyahoga R. at Cleveland, Ohio (8), was selected to be an integrator basic fixed site that represents a complex combination of urban land uses in the lower Basin and pasture- and forage-crop uses in the upper Basin. In addition, the site represents the farthest downstream site gaged on the Cuyahoga R. Streamflow at the site is gaged by use of an acoustic velocity meter because flow reversals occur when the surface elevation of Lake Erie is higher than that of the Cuyahoga R. Lake water, however, does not migrate up to the site. This site is the first in the Lake Erie Basin to have discharge of nutrients and sediment determined at a site downstream of a major urban area near the Lake.

The Grand R. at Harpersfield, Ohio (9), and Cattaraugus Creek at Gowanda, N.Y. (10), were selected to be basic fixed sites. Both represent pasture- and forage-crop settings. The two sites differ in that the Grand R. Basin has less topographic relief than the Cattaraugus Creek Basin. While the Grand R. contains a diverse warmwater fishery, the Cattaraugus Creek contains a coldwater fishery in the upper Basin. Both streams provide critical habitat for steelhead trout during certain seasons of the year. Cattaraugus Creek Basin is in the coolest and wettest part of the study unit. v


The 10 fixed sites are located in 5 ecoregions (Omernik, 19872): Southern Michigan/Northern Indiana Till Plains, Eastern Corn Belt Plains, Huron/Erie Lake Plains, Erie/Ontario Lake Plains, and Appalachian Plateaus Up lands (table 1). Ecoregions, which are similar to environmental settings, are thought to influence the composition of aquatic communities.

Aquatic invertebrates, algae, and habitat are being sampled in 1,000 to 1,500 foot reaches at all 10 fixed sites. Habitat quality associated with aquatic communities is assessed by identification and mapping of riparian vegetation and dimensions of the stream channel within the study reach, sieve-size analysis of streambed and streambank materials, and particle-size analysis of coarse channel materials. Surveys of mussel taxa and abundance are planned for selected fixed sites. Additional surveys of stream channel habitat are planned for completion in October and November 1996.

Assessments of fish communities for species composition and community structure are planned at all fixed sites. Carp and white sucker were selected as target taxa for tissue analysis and will be collected from each site. Whole fish will be subsequently analyzed for organochlorine compounds and fish livers will be analyzed for trace elements.

To compliment fish-tissue studies, bed-sediment samples are planned for collection at all fixed sites. Bed sediments will be analyzed for organochlorine and other soluble organic compounds, and trace elements.


During 1996-98, the Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin study unit team has planned one water-quality survey of a principal aquifer (subunit survey), two water-quality studies of the effects of land use on shallow ground-water quality (urban and agricultural land-use studies), and one study of the fate and transport of contaminants along a ground-water flow path (flow-path study). The locations of these study areas are shown in fig. 2.

The ground-water studies are not designed to characterize the water quality of the entire Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin study unit during the next 3 years. Instead, ground-water studies will focus on the northwestern part of the study unit, where thick, extensive unconsolidated glacial deposits serve as important sources of public water supply. This part of the study unit includes a major urban area (Detroit, Mich.) , planned for study in 1996, and extensive areas of tile-drained, row-cropped land planned for study in 1997.



The goal of the urban land-use study is to characterize how recent growth in residential and commercial land use affects quality of shallow ground water. The Detroit metropolitan area was chosen as the location of the urban land-use study because it best met the NAWQA Program specifications. These specifications are that the urban land-use study be in a new-growth area of a large city where ground water is used as a source of drinking water, or where shallow ground water is hydraulically connected to a deeper source of drinking water.

The city of Detroit has a population of 1.03 million, and the Detroit metropolitan Market Statistical Area (MSA) includes almost 4.4 million people. A wide arc of newly-urbanized land surrounds the city and includes parts of five counties: Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne.

Detroit's municipal water supply comes from the St. Clair R., and the city operates an extensive water distribution system that supplies water to outlying communities as far away as 50 miles. Even so, the metropolitan areas surrounding Detroit use approximately 30 million gallons of ground water per day (Mgal/d) for domestic purposes. The largest users are subdivisions and small towns in Oakland County (12 Mgal/d), and the city of Ann Arbor (16 Mgal/d). Both jurisdictions are interested in protecting ground-water resources and are actively involved in wellhead-protection studies.

Unconsolidated deposits of glacial origin underlie the Detroit metropolitan area. In counties to the west of Detroit, these deposits are thick, coarse grained, and generally are a good source of ground water. The deposits consist of a complex mixture of glacial outwash, beach ridges, deltaic deposits, end moraines, and till plains.

The direction of regional ground-water flow is eastward, toward Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. Intermediate- scale ground-water flow is from topographic highs toward river valleys; however, the mixture of sediment textures probably creates complex local flow paths. The local ground-water flow system ma y be highly influenced by impervious surfaces, such as pavement and rooftops, and by sewage-collection systems associated with urban areas.

Potential ground-water contaminants that are sampled for are volatile or ganic compounds (VOCs), trace elements, nitrates, currently-used pesticides, and fecal bacteria. In urban area s, VOCs and trace elements can contaminate ground water from sources such as leaking underground storage tanks, industrial wastes, old municipal landfills, infiltration of stormwater runoff, and accidental chemical spills. Improperly maintained septic systems can contaminate ground water with nitrates and fecal bacteria. Contaminants can infiltrate to ground water by way of application of fertilizers and pesticides to roadsides, lawns, a nd golf courses.

The setting for the urban land-use study area was defined by a combination of land use and geologic factors. The red shading in figure 2 represents those areas that meet the following criteria: (1) the land use has become residential or commercial during the last 5-25 years; (2) glacial deposits are greater than 100 feet thick, and are predominantly coarse-grained; and (3) bedrock is interbedded sandstone and shale of Mississippian age.

The sampling network for the urban land-use study will consist of 30 wells that are randomly located in new- growth residential and commercial areas (fig. 2). Wells are planned for installation in August and sampling in October 1996. Water samples are analyzed for concentrations of common anions and cations, dissolved nutrients, currently-used pesticides, VOCs, trace elements, dissolved organic carbon, radon , and tritium.

The NAWQA surface-water site at Clinton R. at Sterling Heights, Mich. (2 ), is downstream from a large part of the urban land-use study area. The location of this site will allow a comparison to be made between ground- water and surface-water quality in an urban setting. v


Details of the urban land-use study were discussed at a meeting held on April 11, 1996, in Lansing, Mich. Representatives of 18 local and state agencies attended. Most were members of the Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin Liaison Committee. The objectives of the meeting were to seek input on technical aspects of the project; to coordinate dissemination of results; and to provide information about the study' s timeframe, objectives, and anticipated results. A guest speaker from the NAWQA-National Synthesis Team for VOCs, Dr. Paul Squillace, discussed his recent findings on the occurrence and distribution of methyl tert butyl ether (MTBE) and other VOCs in previous NAWQA urban land-use studies. MTBE is a VOC derived from natural gas that is added to gasoline in many parts of the nation to reduce carbon monoxide and ozone levels. It has been detected in shallow ground water in other NAWQA study units in several urban areas of the nation. MT BE is used in southeast Michigan, and will be analyzed for in samples collected during the Detroit urban land-use study.


A report describing the environmental and hydrologic setting of the Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin is currently in review. Data analysis is being done in preparation for two retrospective reports, a report examining the quality of ground water and a report examining the quality of surface water at selected locations.

All water-quality and supporting data from samples collected at river and well sites are published annually in the USGS water-data reports for all states in the study unit. In addition, interpretive reports including these data are planned for the years following the completion of data collection and analysis.

Geographic data sets are continually being added. For example, a new land-use/land-cover data set is being developed from LANDSAT infrared images taken in 1993. Also, 1990 land-use/land-cover data were recently obtained from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments for use in ground-water studies.

Certain Geographical Information System (GIS) coverages and data sets, as well as a literature review, are being made available through the World-Wide Web on the Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin home page at http://


Recent rains and a wet spring have produced several opportunities for the NAWQA surface-water-quality team to collect samples during periods of high streamflow. Collecting samples at high streamflows is an important part of every NAWQA study. Samples collected during these high-flow periods are likely to represent conditions dur ing which more of the sediment and associated contaminants are transported in river systems than any other time of the year.

At the time of this writing, seasonal streamflows in the Maumee, Cuyahoga, and Grand R. Basins have been higher than normal. NAWQA-team members Kevin Metzker, (shown in fig. 3), Dennis Finnegan, and Steve Frum were able to collect samples on April 23-24, 1996, during rising streamflows as high as 10,800 ft3/s (cubic feet per second) at the Cuyahoga R. at Cleveland. Samples also were collected at the Grand R. at Harpersfield while the streamflow was at a peak of 10,200 ft3/s (fig. 3). On May 1, 1996, the Maumee R. at Waterville was sampled at 22,800 ft3/s, a streamflow exceeded less than 10 percent of the time. v



Communication and coordination between the USGS and other scientific and water-management organizations are critical to the NAWQA program. Each study unit has a local liaison committee consisting of water-quality managers and others who represent Federal, State, and local agencies; universities; and the private sector. Each liaison committee will exchange information on water-quality issues of regional and local interest, identify sources of data and information, assist in the design and scope of project elements, and review project-planning documents and reports.

The Liaison Committee of the Lake Erie-Lake St. Clair Basin study unit was formed in February 1994 and has met annually or semiannually since then. The first two meetings were held at Maumee Bay State Park on February 22, 1994, and March 3, 1995. The third meeting was held in Hudson, Ohio, on September 19, 1995. Smaller, top ical meetings were held in Ithaca, N.Y., on June 14, 1995 and in Lansing, Mich., on April 11, 1996.

Information on technical reports and hydrologic data related to the NAWQA program can be obtained from:

Project Chief-NAWQA
U.S. Geological Survey, WRD
6480 Doubletree Avenue
Columbus, OH 43229-1111
(614) 430-7768, or

-Julie A. Hambrook and Donna N. Myers


The study unit team consists of a multidisciplinary group of individuals. The team is distributed in USGS District Offices in Ohio, Michigan, and New York.

Stephanie Brubeck- Hydro. Tech. Asst., Ohio
Dan Button- GIS Asst., Ohio
Dave Eckhardt- Hydrologist, NY
Dennis Finnegan- Physical Scientist, Ohio
Steve Frum- Hydro. Tech., Ohio
Erin Lynch- Geologist, Mich.
Kevin Metzker- Lead Hydro.Tech., Ohio
Donna Myers- Project Chief, Ohio
Craig Oberst- Hydro. Tech., Mich.
Steve Rheaume- Lead Biologist, Mich.
Mary Ann Thomas- Lead Geologist, Ohio
Mike Wieczorek- GIS Specialist, Ohio
Bill Yost- Geologist, Ohio

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