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Water-quality trends in the Delaware River Basin calculated using multisource data and two methods for trend periods ending in 2018

December 12, 2022

Many organizations in the Delaware River Basin (DRB) monitor surface-water quality for regulatory, scientific, and decision-making purposes. In support of these purposes, over 260,000 water-quality records provided by 8 different organizations were compiled, screened, and used to generate water-quality trends in the DRB. These trends, for periods of record that end in 2018, were generated for 124 sites and up to 16 constituents using 2 trend methods: the Seasonal Kendall Test and the Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season model. Seasonal Kendall Tests were performed on all water-quality records to detect monotonic trends in concentration over the period of record and for as many as four additional trend periods (1978–2018, 1998–2018, 2003–18, and 2008–18). The Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season model was applied to water-quality records that passed more stringent screening criteria and was used to detect monontonic and nonmonotonic trends, account for variations in streamflow, and estimate annual concentrations. These two trend methods produced different trend directions less than 1 percent of the time, illustrating general agreement between the methods despite the different approaches and data input requirements. Overall, the changes in concentration for salinity constituents (specific conductance and total dissolved solids), chloride, and sodium were increases; those increases were some of the largest changes observed in the basin, and they occurred at faster rates over time. Total dissolved solids concentration trends at 4 of the 60 sites increased from below to above the level of concern threshold (a secondary drinking water threshold) over the period of record, indicating potentially meaningful degradation in water quality. Nutrient constituent (ammonia, nitrate, orthophosphate, total nitrogen, and total phosphorus) concentrations tended to decrease over the period of record, although fewer sites had significant trends and the changes in concentration were smaller compared to the salinity constituents. Total nitrogen and total phosphorus were the only nutrient constituents to have decreasing concentration trends that crossed from above to below the level of concern threshold, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ecoregional nutrient criteria, (EPA, undated c). This finding indicates water-quality improvement at sites with these trends (nine sites with total nitrogen trends and one site with a total phosphorus trend), although many sites were still in exceedance of the level of concern. Trends for total suspended solids and some major ions (calcium, magnesium, potassium) were largely nonsignificant or variable between sites, with no prevalent patterns across the DRB; however, sulfate concentrations decreased at most sites. Cumulative land-surface change within each watershed had a strong positive relation with changes in water-quality concentrations for the salinity constituents and most major ions, but not for the other constituents, indicating that land-surface changes are related to the sources and transport of these constituents. Investigating long-term trends (a decade or longer) in water quality can help the DRB water management community quantify the success of management practices and identify potential threats to water availability.

Publication Year 2022
Title Water-quality trends in the Delaware River Basin calculated using multisource data and two methods for trend periods ending in 2018
DOI 10.3133/sir20225097
Authors Megan E. Shoda, Jennifer C. Murphy
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5097
Index ID sir20225097
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center