Trends in precipitation and stream-water chemistry during water years 1984-96 were examined at eight precipitation monitoring sites and five nearby streams operated by the U.S. Geological Survey in the northeastern United States. The statistical analyses indicate the following: 1)Stream-water sulfate (SO4) concentrations decreased at seven of eight precipitation monitoring sites and in each of five streams. 2)Calcium plus magnesium (Ca + Mg) concentrations decreased at seven of eight precipitation monitoring sites and in three of five streams. 3)Precipitation acidity decreased at five of eight precipitation monitoring sites, but alkalinity increased in only one stream.
These results indicate that decreases in atmospheric deposition of SO4 have resulted in decreased precipitation acidity. The chemical response of stream water to changes in precipitation chemistry was complex. Decreases in stream-water SO4 concentrations generally matched decreases of precipitation SO4. In stream water, increases in alkalinity were uncommon because decreases in SO4 concentrations often were accompanied by decreases in Ca + Mg concentrations. The decreases in Ca + Mg concentrations might be related to depletion of base cations from soil caused by long-term exposure to acidic deposition. Increases in streamwater alkalinity might not occur until rates of acidic deposition are reduced to substantially less than the rate of cation resupply by weathering and atmospheric deposition. In areas where forests are aggrading, recovery of stream-water alkalinity will be delayed further because of the acidifying effect of biomass accumulation.