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Estimating the risks for adverse effects of total phosphorus in receiving streams with the Stochastic Empirical Loading and Dilution Model (SELDM)

December 1, 2015

Studies from North Carolina (NC) indicate that increasing concentrations of total phosphorus (TP) and other constituents are correlated to adverse effects on stream ecosystems as evidenced by differences in benthic macroinvertebrate populations in streams across the state. As a result, stringent in-stream criteria based on the Water Quality Assessed by Benthic macroinvertebrate health ratings (WQABI) have been proposed for regulating TP concentrations in stormwater discharges and for selecting stormwater best management practices (BMPs). The WQABI criteria concentrations may not be suitable for evaluating stormwater discharges because they are based on baseflow concentration statistics, the criteria do not include a clearly defined allowable exceedance frequency, and there are substantial uncertainties in estimating the quality of runoff, BMP discharge, and receiving waters for sites without monitoring data.

The Stochastic Empirical Loading and Dilution Model (SELDM), which was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, was used to simulate the quality of runoff, BMP discharge, and receiving waters to evaluate risks for water-quality exceedances with different criteria concentrations, allowable exceedance frequencies, and selected water-quality statistics. Water-quality data from two neighboring basins in the Piedmont ecoregion in NC were used to simulate in-stream stormwater quality. Data collected at 15 sites in NC were used to simulate runoff quality. Statistics for stochastic modeling of volume reduction, hydrograph extension, and water-quality treatment by BMPs, were used to simulate potential effect of these treatments on discharge quality and downstream stormwater quality. Results of these long-term 30-year simulations were used to evaluate criteria concentrations, the potential frequency of water-quality exceedances, and the effect of data selection on risks for water-quality exceedances.

The simulations indicate that the potential frequency for exceeding instream and stormwater discharge criteria depend on the detailed definition of the criteria and the data that are selected for simulating water quality. Data and simulation results indicate that the baseflow concentrations do not represent stormwater concentrations, even in predominantly forested basins. There is substantial uncertainty in applying stormwater statistics to unmonitored sites, even if these statistics are applied to neighboring basins such as in this example. Over a period of several years (or more) it would be impossible to meet many of the proposed instream and stormwater discharge quality criteria unless these criteria include an allowable exceedance frequency because stormwater concentrations commonly vary by orders of magnitude. Selection of BMPs by using concentration reduction as the sole criteria may underestimate potential benefits of BMPs that also provide volume reduction, which reduces discharge loads, and hydrograph extension, which increases the dilution of runoff into a larger proportion of the upstream stormflow.

Results of this study indicate the potential benefits of the multi-decade simulations that SELDM provides because these simulations quantify risks and uncertainties that affect decisions made with available data and statistics. Results of the SELDM simulations indicate that the WQABI criteria concentrations may be too stringent for evaluating the stormwater quality in receiving streams, highway runoff, and BMP discharges; especially with the substantial uncertainties inherent in selecting representative data.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title Estimating the risks for adverse effects of total phosphorus in receiving streams with the Stochastic Empirical Loading and Dilution Model (SELDM)
Authors Gregory E. Granato, Susan C. Jones
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70159597
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Massachusetts Water Science Center