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Total phosphorus loadings for the Cedar River at Palo, Iowa, 2009–20

November 12, 2021

In support of nutrient reduction efforts, total phosphorus loads and yields were computed using turbidity-surrogate and LOAD ESTimator (LOADEST) models for the Cedar River at Palo, Iowa, for January 1, 2009, to December 15, 2020. Sample data were used to create a total phosphorus concentration turbidity-surrogate model. Total phosphorus loads also were computed from two streamflow-based LOADEST load models for the periods 2009–20 and 2016–20. The 2009–20 model was used for comparison with previously published loads at this site. The 2016–20 LOADEST model was used with the turbidity-surrogate model before sensor deployment and during periods of missing sensor data to obtain a more complete annual total phosphorus load. This report presents computed loads and methods needed to compute site-specific loads accurately and track annual progress toward nutrient reduction goals within the State.

A comparison of loads from Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season; LOADEST; and surrogate models indicated substantial differences at this site among these methods. Changes in both monitoring approaches (high-frequency sensor and surrogate data) and changes in load-calculation methods present potential challenges in assessing trends, such as assessment of load reduction.

Annual total phosphorus loads for the Cedar River at Palo, Iowa, ranged from 1,370 to 2,360 U.S. short tons per year for 2018–20, based on the turbidity-surrogate model with gaps in sensor data filled with the 2016–20 LOADEST model. Annual total phosphorus yields for the Cedar River ranged from 0.67 to 1.16 pounds per acre per year for 2018–20. Although this load estimate is lower than previous estimates for the benchmark period of 2006–10, when normalized by streamflow, nearly all the apparent reduction can be attributed to differences in the load-calculation methods.