National Water Quality Assessment Program: Eastern Iowa Basins


Kymm Barnes, Hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Division

Proceedings from Agriculture and the Environment: State and Federal Initiatives conference at Iowa State University, March 5-7, 2001

The U.S. Geological Survey began data-collection activities in the Eastern Iowa Basins study unit of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program in September 1995 with the purpose of determining the status and trends in water quality of water from the Wapsipinicon, Cedar, Iowa, and Skunk River basins. From March 1996 through September 1998, monthly surface-water samples were collected from 11 sites on the study's rivers and streams representing three distinct physiographic regions, the Des Moines Lobe, the Iowan Surface, the Southern Iowa Drift Plain, and one subregion, the Iowan Karst. These water samples were analyzed for basic water chemistry, including, but not limited to the following cations: sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and silica; anions: chloride, fluoride, sulfate, and bicarbonate; and two metals - iron and maganese. Although none of the concentrations of the constituents exceeded health advisories or drinking-water regulations, extremely high or low concentrations could potentially affect aquatic life. Calcium, magnesium, and potassium are essential elements for both plant and animal life; manganese is an essential element in plant metabolism; and silica is important in the growth of diatom algae. Calcium had the largest median concentration of 61 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of the cations, and the largest maximum concentration of 100 mg/L. Bicarbonate had the largest median concentration of 210 mg/L of the anions, and the largest maximum concentration of 400 mg/L.

Basic water-quality differences related to physiographic differences and seasonality were evident in streams and rivers in the Eastern Iowa Basins. Of the three major landforms, water samples from sites within the Des Moines Lobe, the youngest landform in the study area, had significantly higher median concentrations of calcium (85 mg/L), magnesium (28 mg/L), sulfate (28 mg/L), fluoride (0.31 mg/L), and silica (16 mg/L). The Des Moines Lobe region is calcium magnesium bicarbonate-rich due to the Paleozoic source rocks (limestones and shales) in the bedrock. Water samples from sites within the Southern Iowa Drift Plain had higher median concentrations of sodium (12 mg/L), potassium (3.2 mg/L), and chloride (21 mg/L). Concentrations also varied according to the time of year. Grouping the data into four seasonal periods, water samples collected during the months of October, November, and December, had higher median concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and chloride, then samples collected during other quarters of the year. Water quality in the streams during this low-flow period (October through December) is representative of that in the contributing aquifers.

[EIWA Homepage | EIWA Publications]