The U.S. Geological Survey synthesized, reviewed, and assessed Massachusetts water-quality data for use in the development of either numerical nutrient criteria for rivers and streams or a science-based framework for interpreting narrative criterial for nutrients. Water-quality data collected from 65 Massachusetts locations were selected to represent a wide range, but not a statistical selection, of drainage basins and high-, intermediate-, and low-nutrient ecoregions. Additional sites were selected at some locations to provide data to compare open- and closed-canopy effects on periphyton chlorophyll a concentrations. Nutrient and chlorophyll a concentrations are the primary focus of this study. Data for turbidity, color, dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, pH, and measures of aquatic-plant density also were examined. Water-quality data were analyzed by categories of year, ecoregion, drainage-basin size, Massachusetts nutrient ecoregion, presence of upstream wastewater dischargers, and canopy openness. Graphs and statistical analyses were used to evaluate data.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends the 25th-percentile value of a water-quality constituent as the numerical nutrient criterion when using all available data for the constituent. In this study of Massachusetts waters, the 25th percentiles of median values at all sampling stations were: total phosphorus, 0.019 milligram per liter (mg/L); total nitrogen, 0.44 (mg/L); and turbidity, 1.2 nephelometric turbidity units (NTU). When the data are sorted by the two USEPA nutrient ecoregions in Massachusetts (VIII and XIV), the new values are: for Ecoregion VIII, total phosphorus, 0.009 (mg/L); total nitrogen, 0.289 (mg/L); and turbidity, 1.7 NTU; for Ecoregion XIV, total phosphorus, 0.028 (mg/L); total nitrogen, 0.583 (mg/L); and turbidity, 3.1 NTU. For the three Massachusetts lake-based nutrient ecoregions, the values are: high-nutrient ecoregion, total phosphorus, 0.030 (mg/L); total nitrogen, 0.642 (mg/L); and turbidity, 1.5 NTU; intermediate-nutrient ecoregion, total phosphorus, 0.016 (mg/L); total nitrogen, 0.419 (mg/L); and turbidity, 1.1 NTU; and low-nutrient ecoregion, total phosphorus, 0.011 (mg/L); total nitrogen, 0.289 (mg/L); and turbidity, 0.7 NTU.
In general, median nutrient concentrations were found to be higher in the three following categories of analysis than in their complementary groups: sites in USEPA nutrient Ecoregion XIV, sites downstream from major National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System-permitted wastewater dischargers, and sites in the Massachusetts high-nutrient ecoregion. The largest drainage-basin size class had higher median nitrogen (total and dissolved) concentrations than the smallest, but total median phosphorus concentrations were not significantly different. Median chlorophyll a concentrations did not vary significantly among the categories analyzed. The effects of open and closed canopies on median chlorophyll a concentrations were greater within groups defined by the categories used in this study than between the groups; open-canopy sites generally had higher median chlorophyll a concentrations than closed-canopy sites. More than 40 percent of the sampling stations were located downstream from major wastewater dischargers, and these dischargers were disproportionately located in USEPA Ecoregion XIV and the Massachusetts high-nutrient ecoregion and thus may constitute the same effect on water quality.
A number of expected relations among parameters analyzed did not materialize. chlorophyll a did not correlate well with any other parameters. No strong relations among the categories and nutrient concentrations or canopy openness were apparent. The occurrence of antecedent flows exceeding mean annual discharges by 300 percent within 28 days of sample collection did not correlate with decreases in chlorophyll a concentrations that might have resulted from scouring associated with increasing velocities. No rel