A multi-agency, integrated series of studies were initiated in 2017 under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) by the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, and the University of Minnesota to quantify the source, downstream travel time, and storage of particulate-bound phosphorus and sediment in agricultural tributaries to the Great Lakes. Of particular interest are contributions at the edge of field, channels, and riparian corridors. Results will be used to help identify upland and stream conservation practices that may reduce phosphorus and sediment inputs to the Great Lakes. The two study watersheds are the 50 km2 Black Creek in the Maumee River basin (Lake Erie) and the 90 km2 Plum Creek in the Lower Fox River basin (Lake Michigan). As part of other GLRI work, Black Creek and Plum Creek have existing, nested, edge-of-field studies in addition to phosphorus and sediment monitoring stations along their mainstems.
Sediment-source tracking provides a direct method to quantify suspended sediment, and consequently phosphorus, sources by identifying a minimal set of properties (or fingerprint) that uniquely defines each source of sediment in the basin. This fingerprint can then be used to apportion sources of sediment from agricultural fields as well as other uplands including developed areas, forests, and pastures. These methods can also help distinguish sediment from ditches, ravines and eroding slopes, and streambanks. Multiple tracking methods are being used and adapted for best results in these watersheds, including a suite of trace elements for overall source apportionment in addition to short-term fallout radionuclides beryllium-7 (7Be) and lead-210 (210Pb) for high-flow event-based transport on fields and in stream channels. Tile drain connectivity to the surface is also of interest, especially in the Black Creek watershed.
Preliminary results from the overall source apportionment from analyses of streambed sediment and monthly suspended sediment in Plum Creek indicate that the proportion attributed to different land cover varied by season and events. Further data analyses are being conducted for examining event-based pathways on individual fields, while most basin-wide sampling was monthly. Results from both watersheds will help describe the variations in transport of particulate-bound phosphorus across both steep and gentle landscapes representative of the Great Lakes basin. (this is from IP-101450)