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Trends in nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment concentrations and loads in streams draining to Lake Tahoe, California, Nevada, USA

September 19, 2020

Lake Tahoe, a large freshwater lake of the eastern Sierra Nevada in California and Nevada, has 63 tributaries that are sources of nutrients and sediment to the lake. The Tahoe watershed is relatively small, and the surface area of the lake occupies about 38% of the watershed area (1313 km2). Only about 6% of the watershed is urbanized or residential land, and as part of a plan to maintain water clarity, wastewater is exported out of the basin. The lake's clarity has been diminishing due to algae and fine sediment, prompting development of management plans. Much of the annual discharge and nutrient load to the lake results from snowmelt in the spring and summer months. To understand the relative importance of land use, climate, forest management, and other factors affecting trends in nutrient stream concentrations and loads, a Weighted Regression on Time Discharge and Season (WRTDS) model simulated these trends over a time frame of >25 years (mid-1970s to 2017). All studied locations generally show nitrate concentration and load trending down. Ammonium concentration and load initially trended down then increased continuously after 2005. Some locations show initially decreasing orthophosphate trends, followed by small significant increases in concentration and loads starting around 2000 to 2005. Total Kjeldahl nitrogen, total phosphorus and suspended sediment mostly trended downward. Overall, the trends in various forms of nitrogen were observed at most sites irrespective of the degree of development and indicate a change in ecological conditions is affecting the nitrogen cycle throughout the watershed, most likely attributable to forest aggradation and fire suppression. Ratios of bioavailable nitrogen in the form of nitrate and ammonium to orthophosphate have also trended downward during the period of record suggesting a shift of these streams from phosphorus limited to nitrogen limited.

Publication Year 2021
Title Trends in nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment concentrations and loads in streams draining to Lake Tahoe, California, Nevada, USA
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.141815
Authors Joseph L. Domagalski, Eric D. Morway, Nancy L. Alvarez, Juliet Hutchins, Michael R. Rosen, Robert Coats
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment (STOTEN)
Index ID 70214032
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center; Nevada Water Science Center