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Spatially referenced models of streamflow and nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended-sediment loads in streams of the Pacific region of the United States

January 1, 2019

Although spatial information describing the supply and quality of surface water is critical for managing water resources for human uses and for ecological health, monitoring is expensive and cannot typically be done over large scales or in all streams or waterbodies. To address the need for such data, the U.S. Geological Survey developed SPAtially Referenced Regression On Watershed attributes (SPARROW) for the Pacific region of the U.S. for streamflow and three water-quality constituents–total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and suspended sediment, based on a decadal time frame centered on the year 2012. The domain for these models included the Columbia River basin, the Puget Sound, the coastal drainages of Washington, Oregon, and California, and the Central Valley of California. Landscape runoff (represented by the difference between precipitation and evapotranspiration) was the largest source of streamflow, wastewater discharge, and atmospheric deposition were the largest contributors to total nitrogen yield from the Pacific region, wastewater discharge was the largest contributor to total phosphorus yield, and forest land was the largest contributor to suspended-sediment yield. Watersheds with relatively high water yields also generally had relatively high yields of total nitrogen, total phosphorous, and suspended sediment–except where there were large contributions from developed land and wastewater discharge.

The data used in this study, including many that improved upon existing national data or were compiled specifically for the Pacific region, characterized the complex hydrologic and water-quality conditions in the region more completely than previous models. By using these new datasets, this investigation was able to account for the complex network of water diversions and transfers, quantify the contribution of nutrients from different sources of livestock manure, discern a signal from unpaved logging roads in the suspended-sediment yields from forested coastal watersheds, show how recent wildfire disturbance influences phosphorus and sediment delivery to streams, and how sediment delivery to streams is also sensitive to the intensity of cattle grazing. The results from this study could complement research and inform water-quality management activities in the Pacific region. Examples might include identifying potentially impaired waterbodies and guiding remediation efforts where impairment has been documented, explaining the spatial patterns in harmful algal blooms, and providing estimates of sediment and nutrient loadings to Pacific coast estuaries where such data are scarce or non-existent.

Publication Year 2019
Title Spatially referenced models of streamflow and nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended-sediment loads in streams of the Pacific region of the United States
DOI 10.3133/sir20195112
Authors Daniel R. Wise
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5112
Index ID sir20195112
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Oregon Water Science Center