Changes in bottom-surface elevations in three reservoirs on the lower Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania and Maryland, following the January 1996 flood; implications for nutrient and sediment loads to Chesapeake Bay
Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4138
- Michael J. Langland and Robert A. Hainly
The Susquehanna River drains about 27,510 square miles in New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, contributes nearly 50 percent of the freshwater discharge to the Chesapeake Bay, and contributes nearly 66 percent of the annual nitrogen load, 40 percent of the phosphorus load, and 25 percent of the suspended-sediment load from non-tidal parts of the Bay during a year of average streamflow. A reservoir system formed by three hydroelectric dams on the lower Susquehanna River is currently trapping a major part of the phosphorus and suspended-sediment loads from the basin and, to a lesser extent, the nitrogen loads.
In the summer of 1996, the U. S. Geological Survey collected bathymetric data along 64 cross sections and 40 bottom-sediment samples along 14 selected cross sections in the lower Susquehanna River reservoir system to determine the remaining sediment-storage capacity, refine the current estimate of when the system may reach sediment-storage capacity, document changes in the reservoir system after the January 1996 flood, and determine the remaining nutrient mass in Conowingo Reservoir. Results from the 1996 survey indicate an estimated total of 14,800,000 tons of sediment were scoured from the reservoir system from 1993 (date of previous bathymetric survey) through 1996. This includes the net sediment change of 4,700,000 tons based on volume change in the reservoir system computed from the 1993 and 1996 surveys, the 6,900,000 tons of sediment deposited from 1993 through 1996, and the 3,200,000 tons of sediment transported into the reservoir system during the January 1996 flood. The January 1996 flood, which exceeded a 100-year recurrence interval, scoured about the same amount of sediment that normally would be deposited in the reservoir system during a 4- to 6-year period.
Concentrations of total nitrogen in bottom sediments in the Conowingo Reservoir ranged from 1,500 to 6,900 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram); 75 percent of the concentrations were between 3,000 and 5,000 mg/kg. About 96 percent of the concentrations of total nitrogen consisted of organic nitrogen. Concentrations of total phosphorus in bottom sediments ranged from 286 to 1,390 mg/kg. About 84 percent of the concentrations of total phosphorus were comprised of inorganic phosphorus. The ratio of concentrations of plant-available phosphorus to concentrations of total phosphorus ranged from 0.6 to 3.5 percent; ratios generally decreased in a downstream direction.
About 29,000 acre-feet, or 42,000,000 tons, of sediment can be deposited before Conowingo Reservoir reaches sediment-storage capacity. Assuming the average annual sediment-deposition rate remains unchanged and no scour occurs due to floods, the reservoir system could reach sediment-storage capacity in about 17 years. The reservoir system currently is trapping about 2 percent of the nitrogen, 45 percent of the phosphorus, and 70 percent of the suspended sediment transported by the river to the upper Chesapeake Bay. Once the reservoir reaches sediment-storage capacity, an estimated 250-percent increase in the current annual loads of suspended sediment, a 2-percent increase in the current annual loads of total nitrogen, and a 70-percent increase in the current annual loads of total phosphorus from the Susquehanna River to Chesapeake Bay can be expected. If the goal of a 40-percent reduction in controllable phosphorus load from the Susquehanna River Basin is met before the reservoirs reach sediment-storage capacity, the 40-percent reduction goal will probably be exceeded when the reservoir system reaches sediment-storage capacity.
Langland, M.J., and Hainly, R.A., 1997, Changes in bottom-surface elevations in three reservoirs on the lower Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania and Maryland, following the January 1996 flood; implications for nutrient and sediment loads to Chesapeake Bay: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 1997–4138, 34 p., https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri974138.
Table of Contents
- Study approach and methods
- Current bottom-surface elevations and changes, 1993 through 1996
- Capacity change in Conowingo Reservoir, 1928 through 1996
- Reservoir system sediment transport during the ﬂood of January 1996
- Implications of current and future reservoir conditions
- References cited
Additional publication details
- Publication type:
- Publication Subtype:
- USGS Numbered Series
- Changes in bottom-surface elevations in three reservoirs on the lower Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania and Maryland, following the January 1996 flood; implications for nutrient and sediment loads to Chesapeake Bay
- Series title:
- Water-Resources Investigations Report
- Series number:
- Year Published:
- U.S. Geological Survey
- Publisher location:
- Reston, VA
- Contributing office(s):
- Pennsylvania Water Science Center
- vi, 34 p.
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