Water quality of the three major tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna, Potomac, and James Rivers, January 1979 - April 1981

Water-Resources Investigations Report 82-32



Water-quality constituent loads at the Fall Line stations of the Susquehanna, Potomac, and James Rivers, the three major tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, can be estimated with reasonable accuracy by regression techniques, especially for wet periods of 1 year or more. Net transport of all nutrient species and most other constituents, especially those found in greatest concentrations associated with suspended material, is dominated by a few spring and storm-related high-flow events. Atrazine and 2,4-D are the two herbicides most consistently detected at the Fall Line of the Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers. Concentrations of total residual chlorine and low-molecular-weight, halogenated hydrocarbons at selected sites in estuaries to the upper Bay are generally at or below detection limits. When compared to the two other major tributaries, the James River has the lowest discharge-weighted-sulfate concentrations, presumably because of the lack of coal mining activity in this basin. This river also has lower total nitrogen concentrations. Ammonia concentrations and loads are decreasing at all three Fall Line stations, as is orthophosphate in the Susquehanna and Potomac Rivers. Slight increases in total nitrogen and nitrite plus nitrate concentrations in the Susquehanna River from 1969 to 1980 may warrant continued monitoring.

Analyses of data for this report confirm the previous suggestion that when water discharge of the Susquehanna River at Conowingo, Maryland, is below about 400,000 cubic feet per second, sediment, with sorbed nutrients and other constituents, is deposited behind the three hydroelectric dams on this river between Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and its mouth. Discharges above 400,000 cubic feet per second resuspend these sediments and transport constituent loads to the Bay well in excess of loads transported by the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg. In addition to precipitation quantity and intensity, antecedent conditions and season of the year play a major role in the transport of sediments and their associated chemical constituents at all three stations.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Water quality of the three major tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay, the Susquehanna, Potomac, and James Rivers, January 1979 - April 1981
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 82-32
DOI 10.3133/wri8232
Year Published 1982
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Description vii, 64 p.
Country United States
Other Geospatial James River, Potomac River, Susquehanna River
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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