The U.S. Geological Survey began a 5-year interdisciplinary study of the tidal Potomac River and Estuary in October of 1977. The objectives of the study are: (1) to provide a basic understanding of physical, chemical, and biological processes; (2) to develop flow and transport models to predict the movement and fate of nutrients and algaes and (3) to develop efficient techniques for the study of tidal rivers and estuaries. The ultimate goal is to aid water-quality decision-making for the tidal Potomac River and Estuary.
The study is being conducted by scientists from many disciplines involved in 14 interrelated studies. These scientists are addressing five major problem areas: nutrient enrichment, algal blooms, dissolved oxygen, sedimentation, and effects of water quality on living resources. Preliminary results show that treatment of sewage has reduced the concentration load of organic carbon and phosphorus below that of the 1960's and 1970's, and changed the form of dissolved nitrogen in the tidal river. Concentrations of chlorophyll a during the study period were lower than those experienced during the massive algal blooms of the 1960's.
Dissolved oxygen concentrations fluctuate in response to changes in algal populations, but remain above the Environmental Protection Agency limits during the summer low-flow period. Sedimentation rates have accelerated during the past 50-70 years due to urbanization and farming. Asian clams have recently invaded the tidal river; submersed aquatic vegetation has declined since the early 1900's, but conditions may now favor its return.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
A water-quality study of the tidal Potomac River and Estuary: An overview