Interpretation of water-quality data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey for the Neuse River, North Carolina, has identified water-quality variations, charactrized the current condition of the river in reference to water-quality standards, estimated the degree of pollution caused by man, and evaluated long-term trends in concentrations of major dissolved constituents.
Two sampling stations, Neuse River near Clayton (02087500) and Neuse River at Kinston (02089500) have more than 12 years of water-quality data collected during the period from 1955 to 1978. The Clayton station provides information on the upper fourth of the basin (1,129 mi 2) which includes several urbanized areas, including Raleigh, N.C., and part of Durham, N.C. The Kinston station provides information from the predominantly rural midsection of the basin (2,690 mi2). A network of temporary stations on small rural streams in the Neuse River and adjacent basins provide an estimate of baseline or es- sentially unpolluted water quality.
Overall, the water quality of the Neuse River is satisfactory for most uses. However, dissolved-oxygen, iron, and manganese concentrations, pH, and bacterial concentrations often reach undesirable levels. Concentrations of cadmium, and lead also periodically peak at or above criterion levels for domestic water supply sources. Nutrient levels are generally high enough to allow rich algal growth.
Sediment concentrations in the Neuse are high in comparison to pristine streams, however, the impacts of these high levels are difficult to quantify. Sediment and nutrient concentrations peak on the leading edge of flood discharges at Clayton. At Kinston, however, the discharge and sediment concentration peak almost simultaneously.
Changes in algal dominance, from genera usually associated with organically enriched waters to genera that are less tolerant to organic enrichment, indicate improvement in water qualiy of the Neuse since 1973. These changes, along with a reduction in total organic carbon concentrations, coincide with activation in 1976 of a new waste-water treatment plant for the Raleigh metropolitan area.
The amount of dissolved inorganic pollution in the Neuse was determined by subtacting estimated natural loads of dissolved constituents from measured total loads. Pollution makes up approximately 50 percent of the total dissolved material transported by the Neuse.
Two different data transformation methods allowed trends to be identified in constituent concentrations. Both methods recomputed concentrations as if they were determined at a constant discharge over the period of record. Although little change since 1956 can be seen in many constituents, increases of over 50 percent are shown for potassium and sulfate concentrations. These long-term rises indicate the increasing impact that man has had on the Neuse River, in spite of improved waste-water treatment in the basin. The increase in sulfate is probably largely due to increased long-term imputs of sulfur compounds from acid precipitation.