Nutrient loading and selected water-quality and biological characteristics of Dickinson Bayou near Houston, Texas, 1995-97

Water-Resources Investigations Report 98-4012

Prepared in cooperation with the Houston-Galveston Area Council and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission under the authorization of the Texas Clean Rivers Act
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Data were collected at 10 stations in the Dickinson Bayou watershed near Houston, Texas, from March 1995 through February 1997 to estimate the concentrations, loads, and yields of selected nutrients that enter the bayou; to characterize the effects on nutrient concentrations of flow conditions, seasonality, and land use; and to identify nutrient sources (point or nonpoint) inferred from the occurrence and abundance of algal species in the benthic algal community. These data included rainfall samples, streamflow measurements, stream-water-quality samples, and biological samples, in addition to quality-assurance/quality-control samples.

Estimates of loads of selected nutrients for the 106-square-mile watershed during the study were made for point sources and nonpoint sources. Point-source loading data are available only for ammonia nitrogen. Approximately 21.3 pounds per day of ammonia nitrogen is estimated from point sources during the study period. Nonpoint-source loads are estimated for eight nutrient forms: 7.84 pounds per day of dissolved ammonia nitrogen, 5.79 pounds per day of dissolved nitrite nitrogen, 215 pounds per day of dissolved Kjeldahl nitrogen, 350 pounds per day of total Kjeldahl nitrogen, 40.1 pounds per day of dissolved nitrite plus nitrate nitrogen, 67.6 pounds per day of total phosphorus, 46.6 pounds per day of dissolved phosphorus, and 42.8 pounds per day of dissolved orthophosphate. Rainfall-deposition rates also are estimated for comparison with point- and nonpoint-source loads. Deposition rates are 110 pounds per day of dissolved ammonia nitrogen, 120 pounds per day of dissolved nitrate nitrogen, and 15.8 pounds per day of dissolved phosphorus.

Statistical tests were used to determine whether there are significant differences between nutrient concentrations during low-flow and during high-flow conditions. For basins with rural/mixed and urban land uses, nutrient concentrations generally are significantly different (greater) during storm events than during low flow, indicating accumulation in the watershed and subsequent washoff of nutrients. However, nutrient concentrations in storm-event samples consisting predominantly of runoff from a pasture are not significantly greater than those in low-flow samples. Statistical tests for seasonality indicate that dissolved ammonia nitrogen is significantly different in at least one season for all land uses (rural/residential, rural/mixed, and pasture) except urban. Concentrations tend to increase in the spring and early summer months, possibly from fertilizer application and subsequent washoff.

Constituent-yield data were used to make direct comparisons of the nonpoint-source load contributions from four stations with watersheds of different land use. These comparisons lead to three conclusions: (1) For all nutrient species except orthophosphate, urban land use is the largest nonpoint-source contributor, (2) Kjeldahl nitrogen is the most abundant nutrient species, and (3) organic nitrogen accounts for the major part of the Kjeldahl nitrogen.

Algal samples were collected at seven stations and were analyzed for periphyton identification and enumeration, and chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b concentrations. The large relative abundance of soil algae at stations in the middle of the watershed likely indicates the cumulative effects on water quality of agricultural nonpoint sources. Farther downstream near the State Highway 3 bridge, and downstream of three major tributary inflows, the increase in abundance of soil algae to a larger-than-expected level might reflect water-quality influences from predominantly urban nonpoint sources in the drainage basins of the three major tributary inflows. Nutrient concentrations do not appear to limit algal production in the upper (non-tidal) reach of Dickinson Bayou; but nutrient concentrations could have been limiting benthicalgal production in the lower (tidal) reach of the bayou during the time of the synoptic survey. If nitrogen is the limiting resource for algal productivity in the tidal reach of Dickinson Bayou, eutrophication of the system could be (at least partially) mitigated if nonpoint-source nutrient loads into the Bayou were reduced. 

Additional publication details

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Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Nutrient loading and selected water-quality and biological characteristics of Dickinson Bayou near Houston, Texas, 1995-97
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Austin, TX
Contributing office(s):
Texas Water Science Center
Document: v, 50 p.; Appendix
United States
Other Geospatial:
Dickinson Bayou
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