Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

CADDIS Volume 2: Sources, Stressors & Responses

energy sources physical habitat hydrology temperature water and sediment quality stormwater runoff wastewater inputs riparian and channel alteration urbanization

Water & sediment quality in urban streams

Courtesy of U.S. EPA

Urbanization has been associated with numerous impairments of water and sediment quality, including:

↑ dissolved solutes or conductivity (Table 5)

↑ suspended solids or turbidity

↑ fecal bacteria

↑ nitrogen and phosphorus (Table 5)

↓ dissolved oxygen

↑ toxics (Table 5, Fig 22)
  • metals (e.g., Cd, Cr, Cu, Hg, Ni, Pb, Zn)
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • pesticides (e.g., chlordane, chlorpyrifos, diazinon)
  • pharmaceuticals (e.g., antibiotics, hormones, anti-depressants, ibuprofen)
  • other organic pollutants (e.g., caffeine, triclosan, detergents, fragrances)

Exposure of aquatic organisms to these pollutants can result in toxic effects, specific to each pollutant’s mode of action. The following pages focus on a few urban-specific water and sediment quality issues in greater depth; in addition, more detailed information on many of these parameters can be found in CADDIS’ individual stressor modules.

Click below for more information on specific topics

urbanization and conductivity button nitrogen in urban streams button pavement sealants button
Table 5. Example water (Malibu Creek, Etowah River) and sediment (Charles River and Stillwater River) quality differences between urban and non-urban stream sites (DIN = dissolved inorganic nitrogen; SRP = soluble reactive phosphorus).
Location [Reference]
Least Urban Site
Most Urban Site
Malibu Creek, CA
[Busse et al. 2006]
% Impervious 2 55
(μS cm-1)
670 3060
SRP (μg L-1) 43 75
DIN (μg L-1) 30 521
Etowah River, GA
[Roy et al. 2003]
% Urban 5 61
(μS cm-1)
21 172
SRP (μg L-1) 8 135
NH4-N (μg L-1) 0.6 2.0
Charles River and Stillwater River, MA
[Chalmers et al. 2007]
% Urban 2 97
PAHs (mg kg-1) 1.2 32.5
PCBs (mg kg-1) <0.1 0.3
Cr (μg g-1) 36 92
Pb (μg g-1) 73 250
Figure 22. Overall sediment quality, as indicated by mean probable effect concentration (PEC) quotient, vs. commercial, industrial and transportation land use. PEC quotient = contaminant concentration/PEC for that contaminant; at each site, PEC quotients for metals, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and PAHs were averaged to determine mean PEC quotients.
From Chalmers AT et al. 2007. The chemical response of particle-associated contaminants in aquatic sediments to urbanization in New England, U.S.A. Journal of Contaminant Hydrology 91:4-25. Reprinted with permission from Elsevier.

Jump to main content.