Effects of land use on water quality

Effects of land use on water quality

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Human land use impacts freshwater ecosystems by introducing contaminants into macroinvertebrate habitats. Macroinvertebrates are indicator species, meaning that they can reveal the overall health of the surrounding ecosystem. To investigate the impact of land cover on water quality, we evaluated two tributary creeks in the Russian River Watershed: Pieta Creek in rural Mendocino County, and the more urbanized Copeland Creek at Sonoma State University. These results can be used to support more effective land management and resource conservation.

Pruden et al 2019:  We sampled multiple locations along Copeland Creek, from the Osborn Preserve to the SSU campus, to investigate the effect of land use - primarily cattle grazing and agriculture - on water quality. We found that the farther water travels through urban and agricultural land, the less dissolved oxygen it contains.

Volkman et al 2019: Collecting macroinvertebrates from both creeks, we recorded the species diversity and overall sample population. We expected to find greater abundance and diversity of macroinvertebrates at Pieta Creek, where surrounding land cover is largely forested, but surprisingly, we found much higher diversity on the Sonoma State campus.

Weinzierl and Pruden 2019: The Water Quality Index (WQI) is a standardized method of quantifying aquatic habitat health based on nine parameters: biochemical oxygen demand, dissolved oxygen, fecal coliform, nitrate, PH, temperature, total dissolved solids, phosphate, and turbidity. We measured WQI for both creeks. We hypothesized that Pieta Creek would have a higher WQI because it was less exposed to urbanization, and that water in the urban areas will show a lower WQI because it is potentially more susceptible to fertilizers and sewage runoff. We found that Pieta Creek has a slightly better water quality with a WQI of 70, compared with WQI of 61 at Copeland Creek.

A Watershed Year is a freshman year experience that introduces students to local watersheds as they learn about science. The course focuses on teaching students how to conduct their own research. Course development was funded by National Science Foundation.


Project Results
Title Format Download Students
"How does land use impact water quality in Copeland Creek" presentation PDF iconPruden et al 2019 Sophia Pruden, Soundarya Neriyanuri, Andrew Howell, Jackson James
"The effects of contrasting land cover on macroinvertebrate prevalence and diversity in the Russian River Watershed" poster Matthew Volkman, William Deal, Christopher Holmes
"How Does Land Cover Impact Water Quality Variations within the Russian River Watershed?" poster Sophia Pruden and Katherine Weinzierl
Macroinvertebrate data data William Deal