Evaluating changes in water quality with respect to nonpoint source nutrient management strategies in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Jeni Keisman1, Andrew Sekellick1, Joel Blomquist1, Olivia H. Devereux2, W. Dean Hively3, Matt Johnston4, Douglas Moyer5 and Jeff Sweeney6, (1)USGS Maryland/Delaware/District of Columbia Water Science Center, Baltimore, MD, United States, (2)Devereux Environmental Consulting, Inc., Silver Spring, MD, United States, (3)USGS Eastern Geographic Science Center, Reston, VA, United States, (4)University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD, United States, (5)USGS Virginia Water Science Center, Richmond, VA, United States, (6)Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program, Annapolis, MD, United States
Chesapeake Bay is a eutrophic ecosystem with periodic hypoxia and anoxia, algal blooms, diminished submerged aquatic vegetation, and degraded stocks of marine life. Knowledge of the effectiveness of actions taken across the watershed to reduce nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) loads to the bay (i.e. “best management practices” or BMPs) is essential to its restoration. While nutrient inputs from point sources (e.g. wastewater treatment plants and other industrial and municipal operations) are tracked, inputs from nonpoint sources, including atmospheric deposition, farms, lawns, septic systems, and stormwater, are difficult to measure. Estimating reductions in nonpoint source inputs attributable to BMPs requires compilation and comparison of data on water quality, climate, land use, point source discharges, and BMP implementation.

To explore the relation of changes in nonpoint source inputs and BMP implementation to changes in water quality, a subset of small watersheds (those containing at least 10 years of water quality monitoring data) within the Chesapeake Watershed were selected for study. For these watersheds, data were compiled on geomorphology, demographics, land use, point source discharges, atmospheric deposition, and agricultural practices such as livestock populations, crop acres, and manure and fertilizer application. In addition, data on BMP implementation for 1985-2012 were provided by the Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program Office (CBPO) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A spatially referenced nonlinear regression model (SPARROW) provided estimates attributing N and P loads associated with receiving waters to different nutrient sources. A recently developed multiple regression technique (“Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge and Season” or WRTDS) provided an enhanced understanding of long-term trends in N and P loads and concentrations. A suite of deterministic models developed by the CBPO was used to estimate expected nutrient load reductions attributable to BMPs. Further quantification of the relation of land-based nutrient sources and BMPs to water quality in the bay and its tributaries must account for inconsistency in BMP data over time and uncertainty regarding BMP locations and effectiveness.