Estimation of nonpoint source loadings of phosphorus for lakes in the Puget Sound region, Washington

Water Supply Paper 2240




Control of eutrophication of lakes in watersheds undergoing development is facilitated by estimates of the amounts of phosphorus (P) that reach the lakes from areas under various types of land use. Using a mass-balance model, the author calculated P loadings from present-day P concentrations measured in lake water and from other easily measured physical characteristics in a total of 28 lakes in drainage basins that contain only forest and residential land. The loadings from background sources (forest-land drainage and bulk precipitation) to each of the lakes were estimated by methods developed in a previous study. Differences between estimated present-day P loadings and loadings from background sources were attributed to changes in land use. The mean increase in annual P yield resulting from conversion of forest to residential land use was 7 kilograms per square kilometer, not including septic tank system contributions. Calculated loadings from septic systems were found to correlate best with the number of near-shore dwellings around each lake in 1940. The regression equation expressing this relationship explained 36 percent of the sample variance. There was no significant correlation between estimated septic tank system P loadings and number of dwellings present in 1960 or 1970. The evidence indicates that older systems might contribute more phosphorus to lakes than newer systems, and that there may be substantial time lags between septic system installation and significant impacts on lake-water P concentrations. For lakes in basins that contain agricultural land, the P loading attributable to agriculture can be calculated as the difference between the estimated total loading and the sum of estimated loadings from nonagricultural sources. A comprehensive system for evaluating errors in all loading estimates is presented. The empirical relationships developed allow preliminary approximations of the cumulative impact development has had on P loading and the amounts of P loading from generalized land-use categories for Puget Sound lowland lakes. In addition, the sensitivity of a lake to increased loading can be evaluated using the mass-balance model. The data required are presently available for most lakes. Estimates of P loading are useful in developing water-quality goals, setting priorities for lake studies, and designing studies of individual lakes. The suitability of a method for management of individual lakes will often be limited by relatively high levels of uncertainty, especially if the method is used to evaluate relatively small increases in P loading.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Estimation of nonpoint source loadings of phosphorus for lakes in the Puget Sound region, Washington
Series title:
Water Supply Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. G.P.O.,
iv, 24 p. :ill., 1 map ;28 cm.