Report on Hawkins Creek Special Study – Subwatershed 5.20

Sabine River Authority of Texas
August 31, 2003

Prepared in Cooperation with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Under the Authorization of the Texas Clean Rivers Act

 


Table of Contents

Introduction. 3

Sampling Methods. 3

Sampling Locations. 4

Subwatershed 5.20 Hawkins Creek Special Study Site Map. 5

Stream Flow Data. 6

Water Quality Data. 6

Bacteriological 7

Dissolved Oxygen. 7

Specific Conductance. 8

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) 8

pH.. 9

Nitrate & Nitrite. 9

Orthophosphate. 10

Sulfates. 10

Chlorides. 11

Hardness. 11

Alkalinity. 12

Turbidity. 12

Dissolved Metals in Water Data. 13

Ambient Toxicity Data. 13

Fish and Benthic Macroinvertebrate Data. 14

Index of Biological Integrity (IBI): 14

Rapid Bioassessment (RBA): 15

Summary and Recommendations. 16

 


Introduction

The Sabine River Authority 1998 Summary Report of water quality in the Sabine River Basin reported some water quality concerns identified by the Sabine River Authority (SRA) systematic subwatershed-screening program. Concerns for ammonia, and non-support of stream standards for dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids, and chloride were identified.  The design of this study was tailored to examine these specific concerns identified by historic sampling.  The Hawkins Creek subwatershed is mostly rural, but has significant numbers of suburban housing developments and widespread oil and gas leases.  Hawkins Creek has been subject to periodic oil and saltwater spills.  Concerns for chlorides and total dissolved solids may indicate impact from oilfield runoff and periodic spills, while low dissolved oxygen and elevated levels of ammonia would be more likely associated with population developments or products of natural decay of organic material.  For this study, one set of samples was taken during normal flow conditions to help establish ambient conditions.  A rainfall event sample was planned, but delayed due to logistics of long-term deployment of auto-samplers and the volume of water required for the different analyses desired.  Manual sample collection was planned as an alternative to auto-samplers.  Reduced funding forced a termination of this study before the rainfall event sampling could be completed.

Sampling for benthic macroinvertebrates and fish was completed.  Sampling collections were made twice, once during early summer and again during the late summer index period.  Routine field and laboratory parameters, total and dissolved metals in water, and biomonitoring and rapid bio-assessment (RBA) were collected at all sites. 

 

Sampling Methods

The following types of samples were collected at each of the six sites on Hawkins Creek.

Ambient Sampling: Normal flow sampling included dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, temperature, total dissolved solids, chlorides, sulfates, nutrients, E. coli, total organic carbon, total and dissolved metals in water, metals in sediment, and stream flow.

Aquatic Life:  Ambient toxicity samples were taken during the normal flow sample event and in-stream rapid biological assessments of the fish and benthic macroinvertebrate communities were performed twice at each site, once during early summer and again during the late summer index period.

Priority Pollutants:  A priority pollutant scan was planned for any samples for which ambient toxicity indicated consistent lethality to laboratory organisms.  No confirmed toxicity was observed and therefore priority pollutants were not analyzed for any of the samples collected during this study.

 


Sampling Locations

Locations for sampling sites were selected to evaluate upstream to downstream trends and to separate possible influences from several regions of the sub-watershed.  Most of the tributaries to Hawkins Creek are intermittent and so only main stem sites were selected.

Hawkins Creek Sampling Sites

SRA ID

Description

TNRCC #

Parameter Set

HWK2206

Hawkins Creek at FM2206

10383

AM, AT, PP*, RBA

HWKWR

Hawkins Creek at Whatley Road

10384

AM, AT, PP*, RBA

HWK2605

Hawkins Creek at FM2605

15487

AM, AT, PP*, RBA

HWK2275

Hawkins Creek at FM2275

16683

AM, AT, PP*, RBA

HWK1844

Hawkins Creek at FM1844

16684

AM, AT, PP*, RBA

Parameter Set Codes: AM = Ambient Sampling, AT = Ambient Toxicity, PP = Priority Pollutants, RBA = Rapid Biological Assessment.

A priority pollutant scan was done on selected sites only if ambient toxicity indicated lethality.

 

Hawkins Creek at FM2206 is the furthermost downstream site representing most of the watershed before its confluence with the Sabine River.  This location is where most historical data from Hawkins Creek has been collected.  The City of White Oak has its treated wastewater effluent outfall about two stream-miles upstream from this site.

 

Hawkins Creek at Whatley Road was selected to show any differences in water quality after the confluence of Glendale Creek.  Glendale Creek has been affected by several oil spills in the past.

 

Hawkins Creek at FM2605 is about 100 meters downstream of a major unnamed tributary.

 

Hawkins Creek at FM2275 represents the upper 1/3 of the watershed, including a number of fairly small tributaries from oilfield and residential areas.

 

Hawkins Creek at FM1844 is the most upstream site.  This location usually has a small year-round flow and there are some saltwater injection wells in its northeastern reaches.  Bridge construction at FM1844 during this study caused some sedimentation downstream of the bridge so most sampling was done upstream.  Some evidence of a past oil spill was seen at this location.



Stream Flow Data

The normal flow sample set was collected on 7/16/02.  The most recent rain event was a light rain during the sample event.  Another rain event had occurred three days previous.  Flows measured at all sites during the normal flow sample run ranged from 3.6cfs at HWK2275 to 8cfs at HWK2605.

 

Water Quality Data

Water chemistry data was mostly routine and normal.  Some parameters were influenced by recent runoff.  A light rain fell during this sample run and there was a rain, probably in excess of ˝-inch, three days previous.  In spite of recent rains, flow was 8cfs or less at all sites.  Use of this data as a first flush rain event was considered but at least seven days of dry weather was required prior to a first flush rain event sample.  Probably as a result of recent runoff, all of the E. coli samples taken during this sample event exceeded stream standards.  E. coli was highest at the most upstream site, HWK1844, and lowest at the most downstream site.  The Hawkins Creek sub-watershed has not historically had bacteriological concerns.  Turbidity was 122NTU at the most upstream site and ranged from the 20’s to 40’s at the other sites.  Specific conductance was generally highest at the upstream sites and lower downstream.  The pH was essentially the same at all sites but the trend was for increasing pH from upstream to downstream.  Nutrients were below screening guidelines at all sites.  Nitrate/nitrite was elevated at the most downstream site.  There was no known wastewater plant upset at the City of White Oak upstream so the source of elevated nitrate/nitrite is unknown.  Orthophosphate was less than 0.04mg/l at all sites. Sulfate was less than stream standards at all sites.  Sulfate was highest at the most upstream and downstream sites and lower in the middle.  Chloride and TDS followed conductivity trends and was higher at the three most upstream sites and lower at the two downstream sites.  Chloride exceeded stream standards at the three upstream sites.  Total hardness was a little higher at the more upstream sites.  Alkalinity was 20mg/l at most sites and <10mg/l at HWK2275. 

Bacteriological

E. coli exceeded stream standards at all sites during this sample event.  E. coli was highest at the most upstream site, HWK1844, and lowest at the most downstream site.  Possible sources in this upstream region include pastureland immediately upstream of this site and a home near the site.  There was not any evidence of a severe problem from a failed septic system, such as lush vegetation or thick algal growth.  The pastureland did not appear to be heavily grazed.  This site also had a very high turbidity.  Turbidity and E. coli were closely correlated for all sites. 

Dissolved Oxygen

Dissolved oxygen was well above the minimum required by stream standards at all sites and indicated high water quality.


Specific Conductance

Specific conductance was elevated in the upper three sites and fairly normal downstream.  There is only about a mile between HWK2605 and HWKWR and flow at both sites was almost the same, but the conductivity at HWKWR was less than half the conductivity at the upstream site.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

Total dissolved solids are calculated from the specific conductance values and so the same trends are followed.  Stream standards have not been established for Hawkins Creek, but the standard is 400 mg/l for Segment 0505 Sabine River Above Toledo Bend Reservoir.  The three upstream sites exceeded that value.


pH

The pH was within limits of the stream standards for Reach 5 of the Sabine River.  Samples ranged from 6.21 to 6.72.

Nitrate & Nitrite

Nutrient screening guidelines recommend nitrate & nitrite should be less than 3.50mg/L in streams and rivers.  The value at HWK2206 was elevated considerably above other sites, but was still less than screening guidelines.  The White Oak WWTP effluent is a possible source, but no upsets were reported at the plant.


Orthophosphate

Orthophosphate was less than 0.04mg/l at all sites.  For the purposes of graphing data, one-half of the detection limit was used in place of less-than values.

Sulfates

Stream standards for sulfates have not been established for Hawkins Creek so the standard for the Segment 0505 Sabine River Above Toledo Bend is used as a reference.  The standard is an annual average of 75 mg/l and all sites fell below this value. 


Chlorides

Stream standards for chlorides have not been established for Hawkins Creek.  The standard is an annual average of 175 mg/l for Segment 0505 Sabine River Above Toledo Bend.  Chlorides slightly exceeded this value two sites, but were well under stream standard limits for the two downstream sites

Hardness

Total hardness ranged between 48 and 64 mg/l.  Hardness is an important factor in calculating the toxic limits of some metals.  Components of hardness are believed to compete with metals for binding sites on cell membranes.  Levels of metals sampled were below levels thought to be toxic to aquatic life.


Alkalinity

Alkalinity was 20mg/l at most sites.  Alkalinity is considered to be representative of good pH buffering capacity. 

Turbidity

Turbidity was 122 NTU at the most upstream site and ranged from the 20’s to 40’s at the other sites.  The stream is quite shallow at this location and surface water is closely associated with bottom sediments.  There are a few horses in the pasture upstream of the site and some erosion of stream banks at access points.


Dissolved Metals in Water Data

Results from samples for dissolved metals in water are not within ranges thought to cause chronic or acute toxicity.

Metal (µg/l)

HWK 1844

HWK 2275

HWK 2605

HWK WR

HWK 2206

Arsenic

<5

<5

<5

<5

<5

Barium

190

329

284

138

138

Cadmium

<0.1

<0.1

<0.1

<0.1

<0.1

Chromium

<5

<5

<5

<5

<5

Copper

<1

<1

<1

<1

2

Lead

<1

<1

<1

1

<1

Nickel

<5

<5

<5

<5

<5

Silver

<0.5

<0.5

<0.5

<0.5

<0.5

Zinc

11

12

<5

<5

<5

Mercury (sediment)

<0.1

<0.1

<0.1

<0.1

<0.1

Selenium

<2

<2

<2

<2

<2

 

Ambient Toxicity Data

Ambient toxicity samples taken at the most downstream site during past years (1995 and 1996) indicated some concern for toxicity problems.  For this study, samples from the most downstream three sites had lethality for Pimephales, but no toxicity for Ceriodaphnia.  The lethality in the Pimephales appeared to be the result of a fungal infection and toxicity could not be confirmed.  The Ceriodaphnia are more sensitive to almost every toxin, which would indicate not toxicity was present.

Site

TNRCC#

Date Tested

Ceriodaphnia
dubia

Pimephales promelas

Historical Data Review

HWK2206

10383

2/14/1995

Sublethality

No toxicity

HWK2206

10383

5/16/1995

Sublethality

No toxicity

HWK2206

10383

8/1/1995

No toxicity

No toxicity

HWK2206

10383

11/7/1995

Sublethality

No toxicity

HWK2206

10383

1/17/1996

No toxicity

No toxicity

HWK2206

10383

4/29/1996

Lethality

Not Tested

HWK2206

10383

5/7/1996

No toxicity

No toxicity

HWK2206

10383

7/30/1996

No toxicity

No toxicity

HWK2206

10383

10/17/1996

No toxicity

No toxicity

Normal Flow Sample Event

HWK1844

16684

7/16/2002

Sublethality

No toxicity

HWK2275

16683

7/16/2002

Sublethality

No toxicity

HWK2605

15487

7/16/2002

No toxicity

Lethality*

HWKWR

10384

7/16/2002

No toxicity

Lethality*

HWK2206

10383

7/16/2002

No toxicity

Lethality*

*Severe fungal infections observed in the Pimephales may account for mortalities.

 


Fish and Benthic Macroinvertebrate Data

Fish and benthic macroinvertebrates (aquatic, bottom-dwelling, insects and other invertebrates) were collected twice at each site, once in early summer and again in the late summer index period.  The index of biological integrity (IBI) and the USEPA Rapid Bioassessment (RBA) Protocol II were applied to assess the health of each population.  The IBI was used to analyze fish data and assign an aquatic life use for each site. 

Index of Biological Integrity (IBI):

All of the sampled streams scored "Intermediate" to “High” using the IBI.  All but two sites scored “High” for both early and late summer samples.  Scores ranged from 46 to 52 for all but the most upstream site.  HWK1844 had a marginal habitat for full fish colonization and scored 42 and 46 giving it an “Intermediate” to “Intermediate/High” score.  The site that scored highest (HWK2206) is the most downstream site and had 25 species of fish in the early summer collection.  Overall, scores from this study are a little above average compared with other Upper Sabine Basin streams sampled by SRA.

 

 


Rapid Bioassessment (RBA):

The RBA is used to evaluate the benthic macroinvertebrate community and stream habitat and compare study sites against a relatively non-impacted reference site.  In this study, upstream sites were graphed against the most downstream site, HWK2206, for comparison.  Hawkins Creek at FM2206 had good habitat and a diversity of benthic and fish species.  Refer to the following graphs. 

 

Sites that fall near the curve had benthic community characteristics that were expected in the habitat that was available for colonization.  Sites that fall significantly below the curve have a benthic community that was not as species rich and/or there were fewer intolerant organisms as would be expected in the habitat seen.  HWK2206 is the reference site so its benthic and habitat scores are set at 100%.  HWK2605 falls on or very near the sigmoid curve indicating the biological condition is as expected for the available habitat.  The other three sites had a slightly impaired biological condition for the habitat that was available.  One of these three sites, HWK2275, is upstream of the relatively unimpaired site, HWK2605.  Benthic scoring tends to find more differences than using fish with the IBI, but both types of biological sampling indicate that, while there are some minor signs of stress, these sites are quite similar to other streams that have been evaluated in the Upper Basin.

 

Summary and Recommendations

 

The parameters of concern that were identified by previous sampling include ammonia, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids, and chloride.  Ammonia was not tested due to laboratory methods changes.  One sample had elevated nitrate/nitrite but was within recommended levels.  Dissolved oxygen from a single set of samples was normal at that moment in time.  Dissolved oxygen criteria were established in part to protect the in-stream fauna.  Fish and benthic macroinvertebrate communities collected at all sites were indicative of normal, to above normal, water quality through a time period sufficiently long to raise and support those organisms.  While these organisms may have adapted to withstand temporary periods of decreased water quality, they are typical of other regional streams.  Chlorides and TDS concerns are both a factor of one substance, saltwater, but it is not known if this is from natural or anthropogenic sources.  Chlorides and TDS concerns appear to be associated with the upper reaches of Hawkins Creek.  It is likely that other similar tributaries in the watershed contribute some chloride.  Other field investigations have identified other intermittent springs in the Hawkins Creek watershed with elevated conductivities (chlorides/TDS).  Saltwater spills occur periodically in the Hawkins Creek watershed.  Water quality has been impacted at times in spite of cleanup efforts.  The source of elevated chlorides could be from naturally salty springs, or side effects from development of the oilfield.  While stream standards for chlorides are not being met at all times, it doesn’t appear to be significantly affecting the fauna of Hawkins Creek.