The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), has developed a water-quality model, called SPARROW (Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes), to assist in regional total maximum daily load (TMDL) and nutrient-criteria activities in New England. SPARROW is a spatially detailed, statistical model that uses regression equations to relate total nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrient) stream loads to nutrient sources and watershed characteristics. The statistical relations in these equations are then used to predict nutrient loads in unmonitored streams.
The New England SPARROW models are built using a hydrologic network of 42,000 stream reaches and associated watersheds. Watershed boundaries are defined for each stream reach in the network through the use of a digital elevation model and existing digitized watershed divides. Nutrient source data is from permitted wastewater discharge data from USEPA's Permit Compliance System (PCS), various land-use sources, and atmospheric deposition. Physical watershed characteristics include drainage area, land use, streamflow, time-of-travel, stream density, percent wetlands, slope of the land surface, and soil permeability.
The New England SPARROW models for total nitrogen and total phosphorus have R-squared values of 0.95 and 0.94, with mean square errors of 0.16 and 0.23, respectively. Variables that were statistically significant in the total nitrogen model include permitted municipal-wastewater discharges, atmospheric deposition, agricultural area, and developed land area. Total nitrogen stream-loss rates were significant only in streams with average annual flows less than or equal to 2.83 cubic meters per second. In streams larger than this, there is nondetectable in-stream loss of annual total nitrogen in New England. Variables that were statistically significant in the total phosphorus model include discharges for municipal wastewater-treatment facilities and pulp and paper facilities, developed land area, agricultural area, and forested area. For total phosphorus, loss rates were significant for reservoirs with surface areas of 10 square kilometers or less, and in streams with flows less than or equal to 2.83 cubic meters per second.
Applications of SPARROW for evaluating nutrient loading in New England waters include estimates of the spatial distributions of total nitrogen and phosphorus yields, sources of the nutrients, and the potential for delivery of those yields to receiving waters. This information can be used to (1) predict ranges in nutrient levels in surface waters, (2) identify the environmental variables that are statistically significant predictors of nutrient levels in streams, (3) evaluate monitoring efforts for better determination of nutrient loads, and (4) evaluate management options for reducing nutrient loads to achieve water-quality goals.