This study focused on three areas that might be of interest to water-quality managers in the Pacific Northwest: (1) annual loads of total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorus (TP) and suspended sediment (SS) transported through the Columbia River and Puget Sound Basins, (2) annual yields of TN, TP, and SS relative to differences in landscape and climatic conditions between subbasin catchments (drainage basins), and (3) trends in TN, TP, and SS concentrations and loads in comparison to changes in landscape and climatic conditions in the catchments. During water year 2000, an average streamflow year in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River discharged about 570,000 pounds per day of TN, about 55,000 pounds per day of TP, and about 14,000 tons per day of SS to the Pacific Ocean. The Snake, Yakima, Deschutes, and Willamette Rivers contributed most of the load discharged to the Columbia River. Point-source nutrient loads to the catchments (almost exclusively from municipal wastewater treatment plants) generally were a small percentage of the total in-stream nutrient loads; however, in some reaches of the Spokane, Boise, Walla Walla, and Willamette River Basins, point sources were responsible for much of the annual in-stream nutrient load. Point-source nutrient loads generally were a small percentage of the total catchment nutrient loads compared to nonpoint sources, except for a few catchments where point-source loads comprised as much as 30 percent of the TN load and as much as 80 percent of the TP load. The annual TN and TP loads from point sources discharging directly to the Puget Sound were about equal to the annual loads from eight major tributaries.
Yields of TN, TP, and SS generally were greater in catchments west of the Cascade Range. A multiple linear regression analysis showed that TN yields were significantly (p < 0.05) and positively related to precipitation, atmospheric nitrogen load, fertilizer and manure load, and point-source load, and were negatively related to average slope. TP yields were significantly related positively to precipitation, and point-source load and SS yields were significantly related positively to precipitation.
Forty-eight percent of the available monitoring sites for TN had significant trends in concentration (2 increasing, 19 decreasing), 32 percent of the available sites for TP had significant trends in concentration (7 increasing, 9 decreasing), and 40 percent of the available sites for SS had significant trends in concentration (4 increasing, 15 decreasing). The trends in load followed a similar pattern, but with fewer sites showing significant trends. The results from this study indicate that inputs from nonpoint sources of nutrients probably have decreased over time in many of the catchments. Despite the generally small contribution of point-source nutrient loads, they still may have been partially responsible for the significant decreasing trends for nutrients at sites where the total point-source nutrient loads to the catchments equaled a substantial proportion of the in-stream load.