Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 603–622 | Cite as

Recent water quality trends and a comparison to sediment-core records for two riverine lakes of the Upper Mississippi River basin: Lake St. Croix and Lake Pepin

  • Brenda Moraska Lafrancois
  • Suzanne Magdalene
  • D. Kent Johnson
Original Paper


Long-term water quality monitoring data from two riverine lakes in the Upper Mississippi River basin, Lakes St. Croix and Pepin, were analyzed to compare the long-term average water quality conditions and land use distributions, water quality trends and loads at lake inlets and outlets, trends from long-term versus short-term monitoring records, and the ability of paleolimnological cores to accurately infer lake water quality conditions. During the 1976–2004 period, the long-term average concentrations of nutrients, suspended solids, and chlorophyll-a were consistently lower at the Lake St. Croix inlet versus the Lake Pepin inlet, which drains a greater proportion of urban and agricultural runoff. Despite these differences, nutrient trends were similar at the inlets to both lakes; reductions in total phosphorus and ammonium concentrations were attributed to improvements in point source technologies, whereas increasing nitrate concentrations were attributed to both point source changes and nonpoint source increases. Despite improvements in several water quality variables, nitrate concentrations are increasing in both lakes, sediment trends indicate persistent nonpoint source inputs to Lake Pepin, and current total phosphorus concentrations remain well above pre-1950s levels in both lakes. Since urban development and agriculture are increasing in the Lake St. Croix and Lake Pepin Watersheds, continued point source regulation and additional nonpoint source control efforts will be needed to further improve water quality in these lakes. The 1976–2004 trends for most water quality variables were similar at inlet versus outlet sites on Lake St. Croix. Trends at Lake Pepin inlet versus outlet sites were less similar, but data availability limited the comparison to the 1993–2003 period. While the truncated data record highlighted short-term trends in both lakes, the full data record was most useful for exploring general patterns in water quality. Length of monitoring record affected our ability to detect trends at the inlets to both lakes, and altered the magnitude of detected trends. During the two decades of the 1980s and 1990s, paleolimnological estimates of retained phosphorus loads were similar to those estimated from recent water quality monitoring. These similarities support the use of paleolimnological approaches to infer past water quality conditions in Lakes St. Croix and Pepin.


Water quality monitoring Trend analysis Lake coring Nutrient loading Wastewater Land-use 



This work was funded through staff time contributions from the National Park Service Midwest Regional Office, Water Resources Division, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, and Great Lakes Inventory and Monitoring Network. We are grateful to members of the St. Croix Basin Water Resources Planning Team, Nutrient Technical Subcommittee, for their ongoing support of this project and for their valuable insights and discussion. The helpful comments of John Sullivan, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and an anonymous reviewer greatly improved this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brenda Moraska Lafrancois
    • 1
  • Suzanne Magdalene
    • 2
  • D. Kent Johnson
    • 3
  1. 1.National Park Service, U.S. Department of InteriorMarine on St. CroixUSA
  2. 2.St. Croix Watershed Research StationScience Museum of MinnesotaMarine on St. CroixUSA
  3. 3.Metropolitan Council Environmental ServicesSt. PaulUSA

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