Discrete samples and continuous (15-minute interval) water-quality data were collected at Mattawoman Creek (U.S. Geological Survey station number 01658000) from October 2000 through January 2011, in cooperation with the Charles County (Maryland) Department of Planning and Growth Management, the Maryland Department of the Environment, and the Maryland Geological Survey. Mattawoman Creek is a fourth-order Maryland tributary to the tidal freshwater Potomac River; the creek’s watershed is experiencing development pressure due to its proximity to Washington, D.C. Data were analyzed for the purpose of describing ambient water quality, identifying potential contaminant sources, and quantifying nutrient and sediment loads to the tidal freshwater Mattawoman estuary. Continuous data, collected at 15-minute intervals, included discharge, derived from stage measurements made using a pressure transducer, as well as water temperature, pH, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity, all measured using a water-quality sonde. In addition to the continuous data, a total of 360 discrete water-quality samples, representative of monthly low-flow and targeted storm conditions, were analyzed for suspended sediment and nutrients. Continuous observations gathered by a second water-quality sonde, which was temporarily deployed in 2011 for quality-control purposes, indicated substantial lateral water-quality gradients due to inflow from a nearby tributary, representing about 10 percent of the total gaged area upstream of the sampling location. These lateral gradients introduced a time-varying bias into both the continuous and discrete data, resulting in observations that were at some times representative of water-quality conditions in the main channel and at other times biased towards conditions in the tributary. Despite this limitation, both the continuous and discrete data provided insight into the watershed-scale factors that influence water quality in Mattawoman Creek. Annual precipitation over the study period was representative of the long-term record for southern Maryland. The median value of continuously measured discharge was 25 cubic feet per second (ft3/s), and the maximum observed value was 3,210 ft3/s; there were 498 days, or about 15 percent of the study period, when flow was zero or too low to measure. Continuously measured water temperature followed a seasonal trend characteristic of the geographic setting; the trend in dissolved oxygen was inverted relative to temperature, and reflected nearly saturated conditions year round. Relations between discharge and both pH and specific conductance indicate that stream water can be conceptualized as a mixture of acidic, dilute precipitation with pH-neutral groundwater of higher conductance. Specific conductance data showed a pronounced winter peak in both median and extreme measurements, indicating the influence of road salt. However, this influence is minor relative to that observed in the Northeast Branch Anacostia River (U.S. Geological Survey station number 01649500), a nearby, more heavily urbanized comparison basin. The median suspended-sediment concentration in discrete samples was 24 milligrams per liter (mg/L), with minimum and maximum concentrations of 1 mg/L and 2,890 mg/L, respectively. Total nitrogen ranged from 0.21 mg/L to 4.09 mg/L, with a median of 0.69 mg/L; total phosphorus ranged from less than 0.01 mg/L to 0.98 mg/L, with a median of 0.07 mg/L. Total nitrogen was dominated by the dissolved organic fraction (49 percent based on median species concentrations); total phosphorus was predominantly particulate (70 percent). Seasonal trends in suspended-sediment concentration indicate a supply subsidy in late winter and spring; this could be linked to flood-plain interaction, mobilization of sediment from the channel or banks, or anthropogenic input. Seasonal trends for both total phosphorus and total nitrogen generally corresponded to seasonal trends for suspended sediment, indicating a common underlying physical control, likely acting in synchrony with seasonal biological controls on total nutrient concentrations. Speciation of phosphorus, including proportional concentration of the biologically available dissolved inorganic fraction, did not vary seasonally. The speciation of nitrogen reflected demand for inorganic nitrogen and associated transformation into organic nitrogen during the growing season. Stepwise regression models were developed, using continuous data corresponding to collection times for discrete samples as candidate surrogates for suspended sediment, total phosphorus, and total nitrogen. Turbidity and discharge were both included in the model for suspended sediment (R2 = 0.76, n = 185); only turbidity was selected as a robust predictor of total phosphorus and nitrogen (R2 = 0.68 and 0.61, respectively, n = 186 for both). Loads of sediment and nutrients to the downstream Mattawoman estuary were computed using the U.S. Geological Survey computer program LOADEST. Load estimation included comparison of a routinely applied seven-parameter regression model based on time, season, and discharge, with an eight-parameter model that also includes turbidity. Adding turbidity decreased total load estimates, based on hourly data for a fixed 2-month period, by 21, 8, and 3 percent for suspended sediment, total phosphorus, and total nitrogen, respectively, in addition to decreasing the standard error of prediction for all three constituents. The seasonal pattern in specific conductance, reflecting road salt application, is the strongest evidence of the effect of upstream development on water quality at Mattawoman Creek. Accordingly, ongoing continuous monitoring for trends in specific conductance would be the most reliable means of detecting further degradation associated with increased development.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Summary and interpretation of discrete and continuous water-quality monitoring data, Mattawoman Creek, Charles County, Maryland, 2000-11
Scientific Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey
Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia Water Science Center