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Nutrient, organic carbon, and chloride concentrations and loads in selected Long Island Sound tributaries—Four decades of change following the passage of the Federal Clean Water Act

January 10, 2020

Trends in long-term water-quality and streamflow data from 14 water-quality monitoring sites in Connecticut were evaluated for water years 1974–2013 and 2001–13, coinciding with implementation of the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Connecticut Nitrogen Credit Exchange program, as part of an assessment of nutrient and chloride concentrations and loads discharged to Long Island Sound. In this study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, data were evaluated using a recently developed methodology of weighted regressions with time, streamflow, and season. Trends in streamflow were evaluated using a locally weighted scatterplot smoothing method. Annual mean streamflow increased at 12 of the 14 sites averaging 8 percent during the entire study period, primarily in the summer months, and increased by an average of 9 percent in water years 2001–13, primarily during summer and fall months. Downward trends in flow-normalized nutrient concentrations and loads were observed during both periods for most sites for total nitrogen, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, nitrite plus nitrate nitrogen, total phosphorus, and total organic carbon. Average flow-normalized loads of total nitrogen decreased by 23.9 percent for the entire period and 10.9 percent for the period of water years 2001‒13. Major factors contributing to decreases in flow-normalized loads and concentrations of these nutrients include improvements in wastewater treatment practices, declining atmospheric wet deposition of nitrogen, and changes in land management and land use.

Loads of dissolved silica (DSi; flow-normalized and non-flow-normalized) increased slightly at most stations during the study period and were positively correlated to urbanized land in the basin and negatively correlated to area of open water. Concentrations and loads of chloride increased at 12 of the 14 sites during both periods. Increases likely are the result of an increase in the use of salt for deicing, as well as other factors related to urbanization and population growth, such as increases in wastewater discharge and discharge from septic systems.

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