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Assessment of water quality and discharge in the Herring River, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, November 2015 to September 2017

March 24, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey, Cape Cod National Seashore of the National Park Service, and Friends of Herring River cooperated from 2015 to 2017 to assess nutrient concentrations and fluxes across the ocean-estuary boundary at a dike on the Herring River in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The purpose of this assessment was to characterize environmental conditions prior to a future removal of the dike, which has restricted saltwater inputs into the Herring River watershed for more than 100 years. Water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, and specific conductance were monitored continuously, and flow-weighted composite samples were collected approximately twice per month at the ocean-estuary boundary. Bidirectional discharge was computed for the U.S. Geological Survey Herring River at Chequessett Neck Road at Wellfleet, Massachusetts, streamgage (011058798) by using a stage-area rating and index-velocity ratings developed with acoustic Doppler current profile measurements made upstream and downstream from the dike. LOADEST regression modeling software was used to estimate nutrient fluxes (loads) from composite, paired nutrient concentration and discharge data in conjunction with continuous discharge data. Temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, and specific conductance were also monitored continuously on two tributaries to the Herring River, Pole Dike Creek and Bound Brook, from late-May 2016 to mid-June 2017. Composite or discrete water samples were collected from the tributaries approximately twice per month in most months from late-May 2016 to mid-June 2017 and analyzed for total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and dissolved organic carbon.

Flow-weighted concentrations of ammonium, nitrate, and total nitrogen on the Herring River at the dike on the ebb tide generally varied between 0.01 and 0.1, 0.003 and 0.03, and 0.3 and 0.7 milligram per liter as nitrogen, respectively. Flow-weighted concentrations of orthophosphate, total dissolved phosphorus, and total phosphorus generally varied between 0.002 and 0.02, 0.003 and 0.06, and 0.03 and 0.1 milligram per liter as phosphorus, respectively, on the ebb tide. Flow-weighted concentrations of silicate and dissolved organic carbon on the ebb tide generally varied between 0.08 and 3.0 milligrams per liter of silica (silicon dioxide), and 1.7 and 5.6 milligrams per liter of carbon, respectively. Ebb tide concentrations of nitrate were highest in winter and lowest in summer. By contrast, ebb tide concentrations of phosphorus species were highest in late summer and early fall and lowest in winter. Silica and dissolved organic carbon did not exhibit systematic variation in seasonal concentrations. There was uncertainty in estimates of nutrient fluxes, but the LOADEST-estimated fluxes indicated that annual (and in almost all cases seasonal) exports (ebb tides) exceeded inputs (flood tides). Ebb tide concentrations of ammonium, nitrate, total nitrogen, and silica were positively correlated with antecedent cumulative 7-day precipitation.