An unexpected truth: increasing nitrate loading can decrease nitrate export from watersheds
Monday, 14 December 2015: 09:00
2008 (Moscone West)
The discharge of anthropogenic nitrate (e.g., from partially treated sewage, return flows from agricultural irrigation, and runoff from animal feeding operations) to streams can negatively impact both human and ecosystem health. Managing these many point and non-point sources to achieve some specific end-point—for example, reducing the annual mass of nitrate exported from a watershed—can be a challenge, particularly in rapidly growing urban areas. Adding to this complexity is the fact that streams are not inert: they too can add or remove nitrate through assimilation (e.g., by stream-associated plants and animals) and microbially-mediated biogeochemical reactions that occur in streambed sediments (e.g., respiration, ammonification, nitrification, denitrification). By coupling a previously published correlation for in-stream processing of nitrate [Mulholland et al., Nature, 2008, 452, 202-205] with a stream network model of the Jacksons Creek watershed (Victoria, Australia) I demonstrate that managing anthropogenic sources of stream nitrate without consideration of in-stream processing can result in a number of non-intuitive “surprises”; for example, wastewater effluent discharges that increase nitrate loading but decrease in-stream nitrate concentrations can reduce the mass of nitrate exported from a watershed.