Concentrations, loads, and associated trends of nutrients entering the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California

San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science
By:  and 



Statistical modeling of water-quality data collected at the Sacramento River at Freeport and San Joaquin River near Vernalis, California, USA, was used to examine trends in concentrations and loads of various forms of dissolved and particulate nitrogen and phosphorus that entered the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta (Delta) from upstream sources between 1970 and 2019. Ammonium concentrations and loads decreased at the Sacramento River site from the mid-1970s through 1990 because of the consolidation of wastewater treatment and continuously reduced from the mid-1970s to 2019 at the San Joaquin River site. Current ammonium concentrations are mostly below 4 µM (0.056 mg N L–1) at both sites, a concentration above which reductions in phytoplankton productivity or changes in algal species composition may occur. The Sacramento River at Freeport site is located upstream of the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District’s treatment facility’s discharge point; nutrient water quality there is representative of upstream sources. Inorganic nitrogen (nitrate plus ammonium) concentrations and loading differed at both sites. At the Sacramento River location, concentrations decrease in the summer agricultural season, reducing the molar ratios of nitrogen to phosphorus.

In contrast, inorganic nitrogen concentrations increase in the San Joaquin River during the agricultural season as a result of irrigation runoff, increasing the molar ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus. This increase suggests a possible nitrogen limitation in the northern Delta and a phosphorus limitation in the southern Delta, as indicated by the molar ratios of bioavailable nitrogen to bioavailable phosphorus. Planned upgrades to the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant (SRWTP) will reduce inorganic nitrogen inputs to the northern Delta. Consequently, the supply of bioavailable nitrogen throughout the upper estuary should diminish. Source modeling of nitrogen and phosphorus identifies agriculture, atmospheric deposition, and wastewater effluent as sources of total nitrogen in the Central Valley. In contrast, geologic sources, agriculture, and wastewater discharge are the primary sources of phosphorus.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Concentrations, loads, and associated trends of nutrients entering the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California
Series title San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science
DOI 10.15447/sfews.2021v19iss4art6
Volume 19
Issue 4
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher University of California
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description 6, 25 p.
First page 1
Last page 25
Country United States
State California
City Freeport, Vernalis
Other Geospatial Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta
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