Concentration, flux, and the analysis of trends of total and dissolved phosphorus, total nitrogen, and chloride in 18 tributaries to Lake Champlain, Vermont and New York, 1990–2011

Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5021

Prepared in cooperation with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation



Annual concentration, flux, and yield for total phosphorus, dissolved phosphorus, total nitrogen, and chloride for 18 tributaries to Lake Champlain were estimated for 1990 through 2011 using a weighted regression method based on time, tributary streamflows (discharges), and seasonal factors. The weighted regression method generated two series of daily estimates of flux and concentration during the period of record: one based on observed discharges and a second based on a flow-normalization procedure that removes random variation due to year-to-year climate-driven effects. The flownormalized estimate for a given date is similar to an average estimate of concentration or flux that would be made if all of the observed discharges for that date were equally likely to have occurred. The flux bias statistic showed that 68 of the 72 flux regression models were minimally biased. Temporal trends in the concentrations and fluxes were determined by calculating percent changes in flow-normalized annual fluxes for the full period of analysis (1990 through 2010) and for the decades 1990–2000 and 2000–2010. Basinwide, flow-normalized total phosphorus flux decreased by 42 metric tons per year (t/yr) between 1990 and 2010. This net result reflects a basinwide decrease in flux of 21 metric tons (t) between 1990 and 2000, followed by a decrease of 20 t between 2000 and 2010; both results were largely influenced by flux patterns in the large tributaries on the eastern side of the basin. A comparison of results for total phosphorus for the two separate decades of analysis found that more tributaries had decreasing concentrations and flux rates in the second decade than the first. An overall reduction in dissolved phosphorus flux of 0.7 t/yr was seen in the Lake Champlain Basin during the full period of analysis. That very small net change in flux reflects substantial reductions between 1990 and 2000 from eastern tributaries, especially in Otter Creek and the LaPlatte and Winooski Rivers that largely were offset by increases in the Missisquoi and Saranac Rivers in the second decade (between 2000 and 2010). The number of tributaries that had increases in dissolved phosphorus concentrations stayed constant at 13 or 14 during the period of analysis. Total nitrogen concentration and flux for most of the monitored tributaries in the Lake Champlain Basin have decreased since 1990. Between 1990 and 2010, flow-normalized total nitrogen flux decreased by 386 t/yr, which reflects an increase of 440 t/yr between 1990 and 2000 and a decrease of 826 t/yr between 2000 and 2010. All individual tributaries except the Winooski River had decreases in total nitrogen concentration and flux between 2000 and 2010. The decrease in total nitrogen flux over the period of record could be related to the decrease in nitrogen from atmospheric deposition observed in Vermont or to concurrent benefits realized from the implementation of agricultural best-management practices in the Lake Champlain Basin that were designed primarily to reduce phosphorus runoff. For chloride, large increases in flow-normalized concentrations and flux between 1990 and 2000 for 17 of the 18 tributaries diminished to small increases or decreases between 2000 and 2010. Between 1990 and 2010, flow-normalized flux increased by 32,225 t/yr, 78 percent of which (25,163 t) was realized during the first decade, from 1990 through 2000. The five tributaries that had decreasing concentration and flux of chloride between 2000 and 2010 were all on the eastern side of Lake Champlain, possibly related to reductions since 1999 in winter road salt application in Vermont. Positive correlations of phosphorus flux and changes in phosphorus concentration and flux in tributaries with phosphorus inputs to basins from point sources, suggest that point sources have an effect on stream phosphorus chemistry. Several measures of changes in agricultural statistics, such as agricultural land use, acres of land in farms, acres of cropland, and acres of corn for grain or seed, are positively correlated with changes in phosphorus concentration or flux in the tributaries. Negative correlations of the amount of money spent on agricultural best-management practices with changes in phosphorus concentration or flux in the tributaries, suggest that best-management practices may be an effective tool, along with point-source reductions, in making progress towards management goals for phosphorus reductions in Lake Champlain.

Geospatial Extents

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Concentration, flux, and the analysis of trends of total and dissolved phosphorus, total nitrogen, and chloride in 18 tributaries to Lake Champlain, Vermont and New York, 1990–2011
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
New England Water Science Center
Report: vi, 31 p.; 8 Appendicies
Number of Pages:
United States
New York;Vermont
Other Geospatial:
Lake Champlain