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James Tributary summary: A summary of trends in tidal water quality and associated factors, 1985-2021

November 1, 2023

The James Tributary Summary outlines change over time for a suite of monitored tidal water quality parameters and associated potential drivers of those trends for the period 1985 – 2021 and provides a brief description of the current state of knowledge explaining these observed changes. Water quality parameters described include surface (above pycnocline) total nitrogen (TN), surface total phosphorus (TP), surface water temperature (WTEMP), spring and summer (June, July, August) surface chlorophyll a, summer bottom (below pycnocline) dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations, and Secchi disk depth (a measure of water clarity). Results for annual bottom TP, bottom TN, surface ortho-phosphate (PO4), surface dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), surface total suspended solids (TSS), and summer surface DO concentrations are provided in an Appendix. Drivers discussed include physiographic watershed characteristics, changes in TN, TP, and sediment loads from the watershed to tidal waters, expected effects of changing land use, and implementation of nutrient management and natural resource conservation practices. Factors internal to estuarine waters that also play a role as drivers are described including biogeochemical processes, physical forces such as wind-driven mixing of the water column and increase in rainfall intensity and volume, and biological factors such as phytoplankton biomass and the presence of submerged aquatic vegetation. Continuing to track water quality response and investigating these influencing factors are important steps to understanding water quality patterns and changes in the James River. The intended audiences for this report include, but are not limited to, 1) technical managers within jurisdictions who are looking at tidal water quality data and trying to understand why patterns are occurring, 2) local watershed organizations that are trying to understand these analyses and working to connect them to their local area(s), and 3) federal, state, and academic researchers. Figure 1 presents a conceptual model highlighting these intended audiences. Our goal is for the Tributary Summary documents to be sources of readily available background for change over time in tidal water quality observed with monitoring data. The intended purpose of the Tributary Summary documents is to help answer questions related to water quality, show how landscape factors drive water quality change over time, provide support for management decisions that may alter water quality trends and living resources conditions, and highlight where there may be information or knowledge gaps.

Publication Year 2023
Title James Tributary summary: A summary of trends in tidal water quality and associated factors, 1985-2021
Authors Breck Maura Sullivan, Kaylyn Gootman, Alex Gunnerson, Cindy Johnson, Chris A. Mason, Elgin Perry, Gopal Bhatt, Jennifer L. Keisman, James S. Webber, Jon Harcum, Mike Lane, Olivia Devereux, Qian Zhang, Rebecca Murphy, Renee Karrh, Tom Butler, Vanessa Van Note, Zhaoying Wei
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Index ID 70249906
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization VA/WV Water Science Center; Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Water Science Center