The U.S. Geological Survey evaluated 20 years of total phosphorus (P) and total nitrogen (N) concentration data for 18 Lake Champlain tributaries using a new statistical method based on weighted regressions to estimate daily concentration and flux histories based on discharge, season, and trend as explanatory variables. The use of all the streamflow discharge values for a given date in the record, in a process called "flow-normalization," removed the year-to-year variation due to streamflow and generated a smooth time series from which trends were calculated. This approach to data analysis can be of great value to evaluations of the success of restoration efforts because it filters out the large random fluctuations in the flux that are due to the temporal variability in streamflow. Results for the full 20 years of record showed a mixture of upward and downward trends for concentrations and yields of P and N. When the record was broken into two 10-year periods, for many tributaries, the more recent period showed a reversal in N from upward to downward trends and a similar reversal or reduction in magnitude of upward trends for P. Some measures of P and N concentrations and yields appear to be related to intensity of agricultural activities, point-source loads of P, or population density. Total flow-normalized P flux aggregated from the monitored tributaries showed a decrease of 30 metric tons per year from 1991 to 2009, which is about 15% of the targeted reduction established by the operational management plan for the Lake Champlain Basin.
Additional publication details
Use of flow-normalization to evaluate nutrient concentration and flux changes in Lake Champlain tributaries, 1990-2009