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Simulation of flow and eutrophication in the central Salem River, New Jersey

May 18, 2023

The central Salem River in New Jersey is subject to periods of water-quality impairment, marked by elevated concentrations of phosphorus and chlorophyll-a, and low concentrations of and large diurnal swings in concentrations of dissolved oxygen. These seasonal eutrophic conditions are controlling factors for water quality in lower reaches, where the river is more lacustrine than in upper reaches, as a result of downstream damming. This biological productivity is supported by nutrient wash-off from agricultural areas in the surrounding watershed. To investigate this impairment, flow measurement and water-quality sampling were conducted during 2007–08 in support of development of a one-dimensional surface-water-quality model that simulates nutrient cycling and transformation processes.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, used the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Water Quality Analysis Simulation Program (WASP) to develop a receiving-water-quality model of the central Salem River between Woodstown and Deepwater, New Jersey, from April 2007 to October 2008. The main-stem river and largest tributary were simulated. In the flow model, kinematic wave flow is used to simulate flow in upper reaches and ponded weir flow is used to simulate flow in lower reaches. The water-quality model makes use of a mass-balance equation to simulate the fate and transport of nutrients, phytoplankton chlorophyll-a, dissolved oxygen, and oxygen demands (an indicator rather than a substance) in the river. Model input included channel characteristics, boundary conditions for flow and water quality, environmental parameters, vertical dispersion coefficients, settling rates, and kinetic constants. Inputs were estimated where field data were lacking, notably for tributary flows and nutrient loads.

The model was calibrated to observed flow variables and concentrations of dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll-a, and nutrients at sampling locations, with emphasis on growing-season conditions. Calibration was achieved through graphical and statistical comparison of simulated results to observed data. Sensitivity analyses were performed, and model limitations and applicability were evaluated. Simulated results closely matched observed data in most cases, although some were overpredicted slightly. The most important causes of overprediction were estimated tributary flows for the flow model and estimated tributary watershed loads for the water-quality model. Calibration of dissolved-oxygen concentrations was closer, and predicted diurnal variations were consistent with high algal photosynthesis/respiration, although lack of continuous dissolved-oxygen data precluded verifying these predictions. A similar caveat applies to predicted diurnal variations in chlorophyll-a. Simulated limitations on algal growth were consistent with those based on observed data and indicated phosphorus was the main limiting nutrient, except during certain periods when nitrogen was limiting.

Two water-quality management scenarios were simulated with the model to assess the effect of point- and nonpoint-source nutrient reductions on water-quality conditions in the river. Scenarios involved (1) a return of watershed land use to predevelopment natural conditions and (2) an extreme reduction in nutrient input. Although the extreme-nutrient-reduction scenario yielded improvements in water quality, the natural-conditions scenario yielded the largest improvements as indicated by minimal violations of surface-water-quality standards or thresholds. However, years may be needed to attain the full benefit of these management scenarios as a result of accumulation of phosphorus and organic carbon in riverbed sediments in lacustrine reaches. The results of this study indicate that the quality of water in the central Salem River will improve if management policies that mitigate the effects of nutrient-loading practices in the watershed, particularly those related to agriculture, are implemented.

Publication Year 2023
Title Simulation of flow and eutrophication in the central Salem River, New Jersey
DOI 10.3133/sir20225047
Authors Frederick J. Spitz, Vincent T. DePaul
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5047
Index ID sir20225047
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New Jersey Water Science Center