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Major point and nonpoint sources of nutrient pollution to surface water have declined throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed

May 6, 2022

Understanding drivers of water quality in local watersheds is the first step for implementing targeted restoration practices. Nutrient inventories can inform water quality management decisions by identifying shifts in nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) balances over space and time while also keeping track of the likely urban and agricultural point and nonpoint sources of pollution. The Chesapeake Bay Program's Chesapeake Assessment Scenario Tool (CAST) provides N and P balance data for counties throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and these data were leveraged to create a detailed nutrient inventory for all the counties in the watershed from 1985–2019. This study focuses on three primary watershed nutrient balance components—agricultural surplus, atmospheric deposition, and point source loads—which are thought to be the leading anthropogenic drivers of nutrient loading trends across the watershed. All inputs, outputs, and derived metrics (n=53) like agricultural surplus and nutrient use efficiency, were subjected to short- and long-term trend analyses to discern how sources of pollution to surface water have changed over time. Across the watershed from 1985–2019, downward trends in atmospheric deposition were ubiquitous. Though there are varying effects, long-term declines in agricultural surplus were observed, likely because nutrients are being managed more efficiently. Multiple counties' point source loads declined, primarily associated with upgrades at major cities that discharge treated wastewater directly to tidal waters. Despite all of these positive developments, recent increases in agricultural surpluses from 2009–2019 highlight that water quality gains may soon be reversed in many agricultural areas of the basin. Besides tracking progress and jurisdictional influence on pollution sources, the nutrient inventory can be used for retrospective water quality analysis to highlight drivers of past improvement/degradation of water quality trends and for decision makers to develop and track their near- and long-term watershed restoration strategies.

Publication Year 2022
Title Major point and nonpoint sources of nutrient pollution to surface water have declined throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed
DOI 10.1088/2515-7620/ac5db6
Authors Robert D. Sabo, Breck Maura Sullivan, Cuiyin Wu, Emily M. Trentacoste, Qian Zhang, Gary W. Shenk, Gopal Bhatt, Lewis C. Linker
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Research Communications
Index ID 70231680
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization VA/WV Water Science Center