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Point sources and agricultural practices control spatial-temporal patterns of orthophosphate in tributaries to Chesapeake Bay

October 6, 2018

Orthophosphate (PO4) is the most bioavailable form of phosphorus (P). Excess PO4 may cause harmful algal blooms in aquatic ecosystems. A major restoration effort is underway for Chesapeake Bay (CB) to reduce P, nitrogen, and sediment loading to CB. Although PO4 cycling and delivery to streams has been characterized in small-scale studies, regional drivers of PO4 patterns remain poorly understood because most water quality trend assessment focus on total P. Moreover, these trend assessments are usually at an annual timestep. To address this research gap, we analyzed PO4 patterns over a 9-year period at 53 monitoring stations across the CB watershed to: 1) characterize the role of PO4 in total P fluxes and trends; 2) describe spatial and temporal patterns of PO4 concentrations across seasons and streamflow; and 3) explore factors explaining these patterns. Agricultural watersheds exported the most total P compared with watersheds under different land uses (e.g., urban or forest), with PO4 comprising up to 50% of those exports. Although PO4 exports are declining at many sites, some agricultural regions are experiencing increasing trends at a rate sufficient to drive total P trends. Regression modeling results suggest that point source load reductions are likely responsible for decreasing PO4 concentrations observed at many sites. Watersheds with more Conservation Reserve Program enrollment had lower summer PO4 concentrations, highlighting the effectiveness of this practice. Manure inputs strongly predicted PO4 concentrations at high flows across all seasons. Both manure applications and conservation tillage were correlated with changes in PO4 concentrations at high flow, suggesting these activities could contribute to increasing PO4 concentrations. This study highlights the effectiveness of point source control for reducing PO4 exports and underscores the need for management strategies to target sources, practices, and landscape factors determining PO4 loss from soils where manure inputs remain high.

Publication Year 2019
Title Point sources and agricultural practices control spatial-temporal patterns of orthophosphate in tributaries to Chesapeake Bay
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.10.062
Authors Rosemary M. Fanelli, Joel Blomquist, Robert M. Hirsch
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70222369
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Water Science Center