Spatial and temporal variability in nutrient concentrations in surface waters of the Chattahoochee River basin near Atlanta, Georgia, USA

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Nutrient concentrations from the early 1970s through 1995 were evaluated at several sites along the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries near Atlanta, to determine general patterns and processes controlling nutrient concentrations in the river. A spatial analysis was conducted on data collected in 1994 and 1995 from an intensive nutrient study of the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division. The 1994-1995 data show step increases in ammonium (NH4-N), nitrite plus nitrate (NO2 + NO3-N), and total-phosphorus (Tot-P) concentrations in the river. The step increases occur downstream of two wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs) and Peachtree Creek, a small tributary inflow with degraded water quality draining a predominantly urban and industrial area. Median NO2 + NO3-N and Tot-P concentrations in the mainstem increase downstream of these inputs from 0.5 to 1 mg 1-1 and from 0.04 to 0.13 mg 1-1, respectively. NH4-N concentrations were typically low with 95% of the 2575 observations less than 0.2 mg 1-1 throughout the river system, except some high values (>1 mg 1-1) in some tributaries, particularly near the central part of Atlanta. High NH4-N concentrations are attributed to sewage discharge as they also are associated with high biological oxygen demand and faecal coliform bacteria concentrations. Nutrient concentrations vary temporally. An assessment of four sites, two mainstem and two tributaries, from 1970 to 1995 indicates a progressive increase and variability in NO2 + NO3-N concentrations during the period. The progressive increase in NO2 + NO3-N concentrations and their variability is similar to that reported for surface waters throughout the world and for which increased fertilizer usage has been attributed. Tot-P concentrations increase at mainstem sites through the middle to late 1980s and decrease markedly thereafter, due to improvements to WWTFs and a 1990 phosphate detergent ban. NH4-N concentrations, although less pronounced than Tot-P, display a similar decrease from the late 1980s to 1995 at the four sites. Tot-P concentration variability has increased at the tributary sites since 1993, although recent concentrations, on average, are the lowest since 1970 at each of the four sites.

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Spatial and temporal variability in nutrient concentrations in surface waters of the Chattahoochee River basin near Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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