The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is developing guidance to assist states with defining nutrient criteria for rivers and streams and to better describe nutrient-algal relations. As part of this effort, 13 wadeable stream sites were selected, primarily in eastern Massachusetts, for a nutrient-assessment study during the summer of 2001. The sites represent a range of water-quality impairment conditions (reference, moderately impaired, impaired) based on state regulatory agency assessments and previously assessed nitrogen, phosphorus, and dissolved-oxygen data. In addition, a combination of open- and closed-canopy locations were sampled at six of the sites to investigate the effect of sunlight on algal growth. Samples for nutrients and for chlorophyll I from phytoplankton and periphyton were collected at all stream sites.
Total nitrogen (dissolved nitrite + nitrate + total ammonia + organic nitrogen) and total phosphorus (phosphorus in an unfiltered water sample) concentrations were lowest at reference sites and highest at impaired sites. There were statistically significant differences (p < 0.05) among reference, moderately impaired, and impaired sites for total nitrogen and total phosphorus. Chlorophyll a concentrations from phytoplankton were not significantly different among site impairment designations. Concentrations of chlorophyll a from periphyton were highest at nutrient-impaired open-canopy sites. Chlorophyll a concentrations from periphyton samples were positively correlated with total nitrogen and total phosphorus at the open- and closed-canopy sites. Correlations were higher at open-canopy sites (p < 0.05, rho = 0.64 to 0.71) than at closed-canopy sites (p < 0.05, rho = 0.36 to 0.40). Statistically significant differences in the median concentrations of chlorophyll a from periphyton samples were observed between the open- and closed-canopy sites (p < 0.05).
Total nitrogen and total phosphorus data from moderately impaired and impaired sites in this study exceeded the preliminary U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nutrient criteria values for the coastal region of New England. In an effort to establish more appropriate nutrient and chlorophyll criteria for streams in the New England coastal region, relations between total nitrogen and total phosphorus to periphyton chlorophyll a in wadeable streams from this study were quantified to present potential techniques for determining nutrient concentrations. Linear regression was used to estimate the total nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations that corresponded to various chlorophyll a concentrations. On the basis of this relation, a median concentration for moderately enriched streams of 21 milligrams per square meter (mg/m2) of periphyton chlorophyll a from the literature corresponded to estimated concentrations of 1.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L) for total nitrogen and 0.12 mg/L for total phosphorus. The median concentration for periphyton chlorophyll a from the literature is similar to the 50th-percentile concentration of periphyton chlorophyll a (17 mg/m2) calculated with the data from open-canopy sites in this study. The 25th-percentile concentration for periphyton chlorophyll a of all open-canopy sites (5.2 mg/m2) and the 75th-percentile concentration for periphyton chlorophyll a of open-canopy reference sites (16 mg/m2) also were plotted to provide additional estimates and methods for developing total nitrogen and total phosphorus criteria.
The 25th-percentile concentrations of total nitrogen and total phosphorus were calculated based on all sites in this study and were used as another potential criteria estimation. A concentration of 0.64 mg/L for total nitrogen and 0.030 mg/L for total phosphorus were calculated. As another possible method to develop threshold concentrations, the 10th-percentile concentrations of total nitrogen and total phosphorus were calculated based on all the impaired sites in this study. A concentration threshold of 0