Stream Biological Monitoring Program


The Stream Biological Monitoring Program (SBMP) was initiated by the Kansas Department of Health (later reorganized into the Department of Health and Environment or KDHE) in April 1972. The initial goals of the program were to document long-term trends in surface water quality and to supplement site-specific information then being gathered through other departmental monitoring efforts (e.g., intensive river basin surveys). The program in its modern form, within the Bureau of Water's, Watershed Planning, Monitoring, and Assessment Section, continues long-term monitoring, but a large portion of its resources are devoted to Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) follow-up monitoring and special projects.

The majority of the long-term biological monitoring network sites are also Stream Chemistry Monitoring Program sites. Combining biological and chemical sampling provides a more complete picture of ecological status than either type of information can provide alone. Whereas water chemistry measurements provide information about chemical conditions at the moment they are collected, benthic macroinvertebrates (water dwelling insects, crustaceans, mollusks, annelids and other organisms) have life spans ranging from weeks to years (as much as 100 years in certain freshwater mussel species). Therefore, the assemblage and structure of the macroinvertebrate community can provide a time-integrated measure of environmental conditions ranging from months to decades.

Since the program's inception, macroinvertebrate samples have been collected from 221 stations. Ninety stations have been sampled in at least 5 different years and among those 35 stations have been sampled in at least 20 different years. As of 2016, the SBMP macroinvertebrate database contains 2,140 macroinvertebrate samples with 85,068 predominantly genus/species level taxonomic records (501,339 individual organisms). A reference collection containing representative specimens of 542 macroinvertebrate taxa has been assembled over the 40 plus year history of the program. A separate freshwater mussel database contains over 15,000 records of mussel species from nearly 300 locations. A reference collection containing representative shells of 43 freshwater mussel species (of 48 confirmed Kansas species) has been assembled over the years. Program staff occasionally provide taxonomic expertise to other State and Federal agencies.

Monitoring Methods

Since 1978, the monitoring program has utilized a time-based "equal effort" quantitative technique rather than areal or volumetric sampling techniques. Samples are collected in a prescribed (one person-hour) time frame using D-frame nets with 500 micron mesh. Qualitatively, all available wadeable habitats are sampled, but efforts are focused on the biologically richest microhabitats. Organisms from habitats such as riffles, bank roots, leaf packs, filamentous algae, and macrophytes are kicked and/or swept into the nets. The organisms are then immediately picked according to their relative abundance and deposited into sample jars. In addition, macroinvertebrates residing on or within large substrates (e.g. large rocks and logs) are picked by hand. No more than 50 organisms are picked from any single microhabitat (e.g. log, rock, or D-net sweep). Single samples at typical monitoring sites average about 250 organisms and 40 distinct taxa. Typically about 25% of all known taxa from a sample station are represented in a single sample.

Organisms are identified to the lowest practicable taxonomic level, which is typically genus or species for aquatic insects. The resulting data are loaded into an Oracle database where metrics are automatically calculated. Selected metrics are then utilized in the Aquatic Life Use Support (ALUS) Index. The ALUS Index is an aggregate multimetric index consisting of 5 metrics that quantitatively describe various attributes of the macroinvertebrate community. The overall ALUS Index score provides a measure of the biological condition indicative of whether or not the sampled stream reach is supporting a diverse, self-sustaining and resilient aquatic life community.

Program Deliverables

The products of the program's monitoring methods provide scientifically defensible information on the quality of flowing waters in Kansas. This information is intended for use in:

  • Complying with the water quality monitoring and reporting requirements of 40 CFR 130.4 and sections 106(e)(1), 303(d), 305(b), and 319(h) of the federal Clean Water Act
  • Evaluating waterbody compliance with the Kansas surface water quality standards (K.A.R. 28-16-28b et seq.)
  • Identifying point and nonpoint sources of pollution contributing most significantly to water use impairments in streams
  • Documenting spatial and temporal trends in surface water quality resulting from changes in prevailing climatological conditions, land use/landcover, natural resource management practices, wastewater treatment plant operations, and other factors
  • Developing scientifically defensible environmental standards, wastewater treatment plant permits, and waterbody/watershed pollution control plans
  • Evaluating the efficacy of pollution control efforts and waterbody remediation/restoration initiatives implemented by the department and other agencies and organizations

View a map of the Kansas Stream Biological Monitoring Program Network (PDF).

For additional detailed information on the program's history, methodology, and standard operating procedures please view the Quality Assurance Management Plan (PDF).