Water-Quality Assessment of Part of the Upper Mississippi River Basin, Minnesota and Wisconsin- Environmental Setting and Study Design

The Upper Mississippi River Basin is diverse in ways that can control the areal distribution and flow of water and the distribution and concentration of constituents that affect water quality. A review of the environmental setting of the Upper Mississippi River Basin study unit of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program is intended to put water quality in perspective with the geology, soils, climate, hydrology, ecology and historical uses of the land and provides a basis for the sampling design of the study. The Upper Mississippi River Basin study unit encompasses about 47,000 square miles and includes all of the basin upstream from Lake Pepin. The climate of the study unit is subhumid continental with cold dry winters and warm, moist summers. Average annual precipitation ranges from 22 inches in the western part of the study unit to 32 inches in the east. Annual runoff ranges from less than 2 inches in the west to 14 inches in the northeast. The physiography of the study unit includes the Superior Upland and the Central Lowland Provinces. The Wisconsin Driftless Area and the Dissected Till Plains are unique physiographic sections of the Central Lowland Province. Hydrogeologic units in glacial deposits include surficial and buried sand and gravel aquifers and confining units. Bedrock aquifers and confining units are part of a thick sequence of sedimentary rocks that can be divided into major aquifers separated by confining units. The population of the study unit was about 3,640,000 as of 1990 and increased 16 percent between 1970 and 1990. Seventy-five percent of the population lives in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. An average of 413 million gallons of water per day was used 59 percent from ground water and 41 percent from surface water. Land use and land cover in the study unit consists of forested, agricultural, and urban areas. About 63 percent of the land area is agricultural. The quality of water in streams and ground water are affected by both natural and anthropogenic factors. The quality of water is generally satisfactory for most domestic, public, industrial, and irrigation uses. Most water is of the calcium-magnesium-bicarbonate type. The initial six-year phase of the Upper Mississippi River Basin National Water-Quality Assessment, lasting from 1994 to 1999, focuses on data collection and analysis in a 19,500 square-mile area in Minnesota and Wisconsin that includes the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The study design focuses on factors that have an influence on or a potential influence on the water quality in that area. The most significant contaminants include nutrients, pesticides, synthetic-organic compounds, and trace metals. Environmental stratification consists of dividing the study unit into subareas with homogeneous characteristics to assess natural and anthropogenic factors affecting water quality. The assessment of water quality in streams and in aquifers is based on the sampling design that compares water quality within homogeneous subareas defined by subbasins or aquifer boundaries. The study unit is stratified at four levels for the surface-water component: glacial deposit composition, surficial geology, general land use and land cover, and secondary land use. Ground-water studies emphasize shallow ground water where quality is most likely influenced by overlying land use and land cover. Stratification for ground-water sampling is superimposed on the distribution of shallow aquifers. For each aquifer and surface-water basin this stratification forms the basis for the proposed sampling design used in the Upper Mississippi River Basin National Water-Quality Assessment.
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U.S. Geological Survey
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