Point sources and agricultural practices control spatial-temporal patterns of orthophosphate in tributaries to Chesapeake Bay

Science of the Total Environment
By: , and 



Orthophosphate (PO4) is the most bioavailable form of phosphorus (P). Excess PO4 may cause harmful algal blooms in aquatic ecosystems. A major restoration effort is underway for Chesapeake Bay (CB) to reduce P, nitrogen, and sediment loading to CB. Although PO4 cycling and delivery to streams has been characterized in small-scale studies, regional drivers of PO4 patterns remain poorly understood because most water quality trend assessment focus on total P. Moreover, these trend assessments are usually at an annual timestep. To address this research gap, we analyzed PO4 patterns over a 9-year period at 53 monitoring stations across the CB watershed to: 1) characterize the role of PO4 in total P fluxes and trends; 2) describe spatial and temporal patterns of PO4 concentrations across seasons and streamflow; and 3) explore factors explaining these patterns. Agricultural watersheds exported the most total P compared with watersheds under different land uses (e.g., urban or forest), with PO4 comprising up to 50% of those exports. Although PO4 exports are declining at many sites, some agricultural regions are experiencing increasing trends at a rate sufficient to drive total P trends. Regression modeling results suggest that point source load reductions are likely responsible for decreasing PO4 concentrations observed at many sites. Watersheds with more Conservation Reserve Program enrollment had lower summer PO4 concentrations, highlighting the effectiveness of this practice. Manure inputs strongly predicted PO4 concentrations at high flows across all seasons. Both manure applications and conservation tillage were correlated with changes in PO4 concentrations at high flow, suggesting these activities could contribute to increasing PO4 concentrations. This study highlights the effectiveness of point source control for reducing PO4 exports and underscores the need for management strategies to target sources, practices, and landscape factors determining PO4 loss from soils where manure inputs remain high.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Point sources and agricultural practices control spatial-temporal patterns of orthophosphate in tributaries to Chesapeake Bay
Series title Science of the Total Environment
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.062
Volume 652
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Water Science Center
Description 12 p.
First page 422
Last page 433
Country United States
State Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
Other Geospatial Chesapeake Bay watershed
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