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Water-quality assessment of the Albemarle-Pamlico drainage basin, North Carolina and Virginia; characterization of suspended sediment, nutrients, and pesticides

June 1, 1996

The 28,000-square-mile Albemarle-Pamlico drainage basin includes the Roanoke, Dan, Chowan Tar, and Neuse Rivers. The basin extends through four physiographic provinces in North Carolina and Virginia-Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge, Piedmont and Coastal Plain. The spatial and temporal trends in ground-water and riverine water quality in the study area were characterized by using readily available data sources The primary data sources that were used included the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water Data Storage and Retrieval System (WATSTORE) database, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Storage and Retrieval System (STORET) database, and results of a few investigations of pesticide occurrence. The principal water-quality constituents examined were suspended sediment, nutrients, and pesticides. The data examined generally spanned the period from 1950 to 1993.

The only significant trends in suspended sediment were detected at three Chowan River tributary sites which showed long-term decreases. Suspended- and total-solids concentrations have decreased throughout the Albemarle-Pamlico drainage basin. The decreases are probably a result of (1) construction of new lakes and ponds in the basin, which trap solids, (2) improved agricultural soil management, and (3) improved wastewater treatment.

Nutrient point sources are much less than nonpoint nutrient sources at the eight NASQAN basins examined for nutrient loads. The greatest nitrogen inputs are associated with crop fertilizer and biological nitrogen fixation by soybeans and peanuts, whereas atmospheric and animal-related nitrogen inputs are comparable in magnitude. The largest phosphorus inputs are associated with animal wastes.

The most commonly detected pesticides in surface water in the STORET database were atrazine and aldrin.Intensive organonitrogen herbicide sampling of Chicod Creek in 1992 showed seasonal variations in pesticide concentration. The most commonly detected herbicides were atrazine, alachlor, metolachlor, prometon, and metribuzin. No relation between streamflow and pesticide concentration was evident.

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