thumbnail

Water-quality assessment of the Lower Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania and Maryland; sources, characteristics, analysis and limitations of nutrient and suspended-sediment data, 1975-90

Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4209

By:
and

Links

Abstract

This report describes analyses of available information on nutrients and suspended sediment collected in the Lower Susquehanna River Basin during water years 1975-90. Most of the analyses were applied to data collected during water years 1980-89. The report describes the spatial and temporal availability of nutrient and suspended-sediment data and presents a preliminary concept of the spatial and temporal patterns of concentrations and loads within the basin. Where data were available, total and dissolved forms of nitrogen and phosphorus species from precipitation, surface water, ground water, and springwater, and bottom material from streams and reservoirs were evaluated. Suspended-sediment data from streams also were evaluated. The U.S. Geological Survey National Water Information System (NWIS) database was selected as the primary database for the analyses. Precipitation-quality data from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) and bottom-material-quality data from the National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE) were used to supplement the water-quality data from NWIS. Concentrations of nutrients were available from 3 precipitation sites established for longterm monitoring purposes, 883 wells (854 synoptic areal survey sites and 29 project and research sites), 23 springs (17 synoptic areal survey sites and 6 project and research sites), and 894 bottom-material sites (840 synoptic areal survey sites and 54 project and research sites). Concentrations of nutrients and (or) suspended sediment were available from 128 streams (36 long-term monitoring sites, 51 synoptic areal survey sites, and 41 project and research sites). Concentrations of nutrients and suspended sediment in streams varied temporally and spatially and were related to land use, agricultural practices, and streamflow. A general north-to-south pattern of increasing median nitrate concentrations, from 2 to 5 mg/L, was detected in samples collected in study unit streams. In streams that drain areas dominated by agriculture, concentrations of nutrients and suspended sediment tend to be elevated with respect to those found in areas of other land-use types and are related to the amount of commercial fertilizer and animal manure applied to the area drained by the streams. Animal manure is the dominant source of nitrogen for the streams in the lower, agricultural part of the basin. Concentrations of nutrients in samples from wells varied with season and well depth and were related to hydrogeologic setting. Median concentrations of nitrate were 2.5 and 3.5 mg/L for wells drawing water at depths of 0 to 100 ft and 101 to 200 ft, respectively. The lowest median concentrations for nitrate in ground water from wells were generally found in siliciclastic-bedrock, forested settings of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province, and the highest were found in carbonate-bedrock agricultural settings of the Piedmont Physiographic Province. Twenty-five percent of the measurements from wells in carbonate rocks in the Piedmont Physiographic Province exceeded the Pennsylvania drinking-water standard. An estimate of mass balance of nutrient loads within the Lower Susquehanna River Basin was produced by combining the available information on stream loads, atmosphericdeposition loads, commercial-fertilizer applications, animal-manure production, privateseptic-system nonpoint-source loads, and municipal and industrial point-source loads. The percentage of the average annual nitrate load carried in base flow of streams in the study unit ranged from 45 to 76 percent, and the average annual phosphorus load carried in base flow ranged from 20 to 33 percent. Average annual yields of nutrients and suspended sediment from tributary basins are directly related to percentage of drainage area in agriculture and inversely to drainage area. Information required to compute loads of nitrogen and phosphorus were available for all sources except atmospheric deposition, for which only nitrogen data were available. Atmospheric deposition is the dominant source of nitrogen for the mostly forested basins draining the upper half of the study unit. The estimate of total annual nitrogen load to the study unit from precipitation is 98.8 million pounds. Nonpoint and point sources of nutrients were estimated. Nonpoint and point sources combined, including atmospheric deposition, provide a potential annual load of 390 million pounds of nitrogen and 79.5 million pounds of phosphorus. The range of percentages of the estimated nonpoint and point sources that were measured in the stream was 20 to 47 percent for nitrogen and 6 to 14 percent for phosphorus. On the average, the Susquehanna River discharges 141,000 pounds of nitrogen and 7,920 pounds of phosphorus to the Lower Susquehanna River reservoir system each year. About 98 percent of the nitrogen and 60 percent of the phosphorus passes through the reservoir system. Interpretations of available water-quality data and conclusions about the water quality of the Lower Susquehanna River Basin were limited by the scarcity of certain types of water-quality data and current ancillary data. A more complete assessment of the water quality of the basin with respect to nutrients and suspended sediment would be enhanced by the availability of additional data for multiple samples over time from all water environments; samples from streams in the northern and western part of the basin; samples from streams and springs throughout the basin during high base-flow or stormflow conditions; and information on current land-use, and nutrient loading from all types of land-use settings.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Water-quality assessment of the Lower Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania and Maryland; sources, characteristics, analysis and limitations of nutrient and suspended-sediment data, 1975-90
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
97-4209
Year Published:
1997
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
Description:
xiii, 138 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.