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The findings of a problem-oriented river-system investigation of the water-quality and streamflow characteristics of the Passaic River above Little Falls, N.J. (drainage area 762 sq mi) are described. Information on streamflow duration, time-of-travel measurements, and analyses of chemical, biochemical, and physical water quality are summarized. This information is used to define relations between water quality, streamflow, geology, and environmental development in the basin's hydrologic system. The existence, nature, and magnitude of long-term trends in stream quality--as measured by dissolved solids, chloride, dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, ammonia, nitrate, and turbidity--and in streamflow toward either improvement or deterioration are appraised at selected sites within the river system.
The quality of streams in the upper Passaic River basin in northeastern New Jersey is shown to be deteriorating with time. For example, biochemical oxygen demand, an indirect measure of organic matter in a stream, is increasing at most stream-quality sampling sites. Similarly, the dissolved-solids content, a measure of inorganic matter, also is increasing. These observations suggest that the Passaic River system is being used more and more as a medium for the disposal of industrial and municipal waste waters.
Dissolved oxygen, an essential ingredient for the natural purification of streams receiving waste discharges, is undersaturated (that is, below theoretical solubility levels) at all sampling sites and is decreasing with time at most sites. This is another indication of the general deterioration of stream quality in the upper basin. It also indicates that the ability of the river system to receive, transport, and assimilate wastes, although exceeded now only for short periods during the summer months, may be exceeded more continually in the future if present trends hold.
Decreasing ratios of ammonia to nitrate in a downstream direction on the main stem Passaic River suggests that nitrification (the biochemical conversion of ammonia to nitrate) as well as microbiological decomposition of organic matter (waste waters) is contributing to the continued and increasing undersaturation of dissolved oxygen in the river system.
Passaic River streams are grouped into five general regions of isochemical quality on the basis of predominant constituents and dissolved-solids content during low flows. The predominant cations in all but one region are calcium and magnesium (exceeding 50 percent of total cations) ; in that region, where man's activities probably have altered the natural stream waters, the percentage of sodium and potassium equals that of calcium and magnesium. In two of the five regions, the predominant anion is bicarbonate; a combination of sulfate, chloride, and nitrate is predominant in the other three regions. Dissolved-solids content during low flows generally ranges from 100 to 600 milligrams per liter.
Several time-of-travel measurements within the basin are reported. These data provide reasonable estimates of the time required for soluble contaminants to pass through particular parts of the river system. For example, the peak concentration of a contaminant injected into the river system at Chatham during extreme low flow would be expected to travel to Little Falls, about 31 miles, in about 13 days; but at medium flow, in about 5 days.
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USGS Numbered Series
Characteristics of water quality and streamflow, Passaic River basin above Little Falls, New Jersey