Spatially detailed mass-loading studies and solute-transport modeling using OTIS (One-dimensional Transport with Inflow and Storage) demonstrate how natural attenuation and loading from distinct and diffuse sources control stream water quality and affect load reductions predicted in total maximum daily loads (TMDLs). Mass-loading data collected during low-flow from Cement Creek (a low-pH, metal-rich stream because of natural and mining sources, and subject to TMDL requirements) were used to calibrate OTIS and showed spatially variable effects of natural attenuation (instream reactions) and loading from diffuse (groundwater) and distinct sources. OTIS simulations of the possible effects of TMDL-recommended remediation of mine sites showed less improvement to dissolved zinc load and concentration (14% decrease) than did the TMDL (53-63% decrease). The TMDL (1) assumed conservative transport, (2) accounted for loads removed by remediation by subtracting them from total load at the stream mouth, and (3) did not include diffuse-source loads. In OTIS, loads were reduced near their source; the resulting concentration was decreased by natural attenuation and increased by diffuse-source loads during downstream transport. Thus, by not including natural attenuation and loading from diffuse sources, the TMDL overestimated remediation effects at low flow. Use of the techniques presented herein could improve TMDLs by incorporating these processes during TMDL development.
Additional publication details
Using spatially detailed water-quality data and solute-transport modeling to improve support total maximum daily load development
Journal of the American Water Resources Association
Colorado Water Science Center, Utah Water Science Center