Five headwater streams in the Laurel Hill area in southwestern Pennsylvania were investigated from September 1983 through February 1986 to determine possible effects of acidic precipitation on water quality. Precipitation in the Laurel Hill area is among the most acidic in the Nation, with a mean volume-weighted pH of 4.06. Sulfate is the dominant acid-forming anion, averaging 3.6 milligrams per liter or about 50 kilograms per hectare in wet deposition alone. Nitrate averages about 2 milligrams per liter or 7 kilograms per hectare in the study area.
Stream chemistry in the five streams is quite variable and apparently is influenced to a large degree by the bedrock geology and by small amounts of alkaline material in watershed soils. Three of the five streams with no or little acid-neutralizing capacity presently are devoid of fish because of low pH and elevated aluminum concentrations. Aluminum concentrations increase in the other two streams during rainfall and snowmelt despite comparatively higher base flow and acid-neutralizing capacities.
Comparison of the chemistry of streamflow during 14 storm events at South Fork Bens Creek and North Fork Bens Creek reveals similar chemical responses when discharge suddenly increases. Concentrations of dissolved metals and sulfate increased during stormflow and snowmelt runoff, whereas concentrations of base cations, silica, and chloride decreased. Nitrate concentrations were not affected by rainfall runoff by tended to increase with snowmelt runoff.
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USGS Numbered Series
Effects of acidic precipitation on the water quality of streams in the Laurel Hill area, Somerset County, Pennsylvania, 1983-86