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Manure and fertilizer inputs to land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 1950–2012

August 9, 2018

Understanding changing nutrient concentrations in surface waters requires quantitative information on changing nutrient sources in contributing watersheds. For example, the proportion of nutrient inputs reaching streams and rivers is directly affected by when and where those nutrients enter the landscape. The goal of this report is to contribute to the U.S. Geological Survey’s efforts to describe spatial and temporal patterns in nutrient inputs to the landscape in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, thereby informing efforts to understand changes in riverine and estuarine conditions. The magnitude, spatial variability, and changes over time in nutrient inputs from manure and fertilizer were evaluated in the context of changes in land use and agricultural practices from 1950 through 2012 at three spatial scales: the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed, the 53 8-digit hydrologic units (HUC8s) that are contained within the watershed, and a set of 7 regions that were determined by aggregating geographically similar HUC8s. The expected effect of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) on agricultural nutrient inputs from 1985 through 2012 was also investigated. Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) inputs from manure increased gradually over time at the scale of the entire watershed. Fertilizer-N inputs showed steeper increases, with greater inter-annual fluctuations. Fertilizer-P inputs were less variable, increasing moderately from 1950 through the mid-1970s, and declining thereafter. Nutrient inputs and farming practices varied geographically within the watershed, with implications for the potential impact of these inputs on downstream water quality and ecosystem health. Both temporal and spatial patterns in the intensity of agricultural nutrient inputs were consistent with the magnitude and concentration of livestock and poultry populations and the intensity of row crop agriculture. Reported implementation of the animal and land-use change BMPs that were evaluated were expected to have little effect on agricultural N inputs. Animal BMPs were expected to have a more measurable impact on manure-P inputs, particularly in areas with large poultry populations. Understanding these patterns is important for explaining the changes that have been observed in nutrient loads to the rivers and streams of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and their impacts on the water quality and ecosystem health of Chesapeake Bay itself.

Publication Year 2018
Title Manure and fertilizer inputs to land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 1950–2012
DOI 10.3133/sir20185022
Authors Jennifer L. Keisman, Olivia H. Devereux, Andrew E. LaMotte, Andrew J. Sekellick, Joel D. Blomquist
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2018-5022
Index ID sir20185022
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maryland Water Science Center