Many actions have been taken to reduce nutrient and suspended-sediment concentrations and the amount of nutrients and sediment transported in streams as a result of the Clean Water Act and subsequent regulations. This report assesses how nutrient and suspended-sediment concentrations and loads in selected streams have changed during recent years to determine if these actions have been successful.
Flow-adjusted and overall trends in concentrations and trends in loads from 1993 to 2004 were computed for total nitrogen, dissolved ammonia, total organic nitrogen plus ammonia, dissolved nitrite plus nitrate, total phosphorus, dissolved phosphorus, total suspended material (total suspended solids or suspended sediment), and total suspended sediment for 49 sites in the Upper Mississippi, Ohio, Red, and Great Lakes Basins. Changes in total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total suspended-material loads were examined from 1975 to 2003 at six sites to provide a longer term context for the data examined from 1993 to 2004.
Flow-adjusted trends in total nitrogen concentrations at 19 of 24 sites showed tendency toward increasing concentrations, and overall trends in total nitrogen concentrations at 16 of the 24 sites showed a general tendency toward increasing concentrations. The trends in these flow-adjusted total nitrogen concentrations are related to the changes in fertilizer nitrogen applications. Flow-adjusted trends in dissolved ammonia concentrations from 1993 to 2004 showed a widespread tendency toward decreasing concentrations. The widespread, downward trends in dissolved ammonia concentrations indicate that some of the ammonia reduction goals of the Clean Water Act are being met. Flow-adjusted and overall trends in total organic plus ammonia nitrogen concentrations from 1993 to 2004 did not show a distinct spatial pattern. Flow-adjusted and overall trends in dissolved nitrite plus nitrate concentrations from 1993 to 2004 also did not show a distinct spatial pattern. Flow-adjusted trends in total phosphorus concentrations were upward at 24 of 40 sites. Overall trends in total phosphorus concentrations were mixed and showed no spatial pattern. Flow-adjusted and overall trends in dissolved phosphorus concentrations were consistently downward at all of the sites in the eastern part of the basins studied. The reduction in phosphorus fertilizer use and manure production east of the Mississippi River could explain most of the observed trends in dissolved phosphorus.
Flow-adjusted trends in total suspended-material concentrations showed distinct spatial patterns of increasing tendencies throughout the western part of the basins studied and in Illinois and decreasing concentrations throughout most of Wisconsin, Iowa, and in the eastern part of the basins studied. Flow-adjusted trends in total phosphorus were strongly related to the flow-adjusted trends in suspended materials. The trends in the flow-adjusted suspended-sediment concentrations from 1993 to 2004 resembled those for suspended materials.
The long-term, nonmonotonic trends in total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and suspended-material loads for 1975 to 2003 were described by local regression, LOESS, smoothing for six sites. The statistical significance of those trends cannot be determined; however, the long-term changes found for annual streamflow and load data indicate that the monotonic trends from 1993 to 2004 should not be extrapolated backward in time.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Trends in Streamflow and Nutrient and Suspended-Sediment Concentrations and Loads in the Upper Mississippi, Ohio, Red, and Great Lakes River Basins, 1975-2004