Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Water-quality trends in U.S. rivers, 2002 to 2012: Relations to levels of concern

October 12, 2018

Effective management and protection of water resources relies upon understanding how water-quality conditions are changing over time. Water-quality trends for ammonia, chloride, nitrate, sulfate, total dissolved solids (TDS), total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) were assessed at 762 sites located in the conterminous United States between 2002 and 2012. Annual mean concentrations at the start and end of the trend period were compared to an environmentally meaningful level of concern (LOC) to categorize patterns in water-quality changes. Trend direction, magnitude, and the proximity of concentrations to LOCs were investigated. Of the 1956 site-constituent combinations investigated, 30% were above the LOC in 2002, and only six (0.3%) crossed the LOC threshold, either from above or below, indicating that waterquality conditions are not substantially improving, nor are they degrading, in relation to the LOCs. The concentrations of ammonia, nitrate, sulfate, chloride, and TDS tended to be below the LOC, and in cases where the trend was increasing (concentrations approached the LOC from below), the increases were varied and small in magnitude. In contrast, concentrations of TN and TP tended to be above the LOC, and where the trend was decreasing (concentrations approached the LOC from above), the decreases were larger in magnitude and more consistent. These results indicate that if water-quality conditions continue to trend in the same direction, at the same rate, for all sites and constituents studied, elevated concentrations are more likely to drop below an LOC before low concentrations will exceed an LOC.

Publication Year 2019
Title Water-quality trends in U.S. rivers, 2002 to 2012: Relations to levels of concern
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.09.377
Authors Megan E. Shoda, Lori A. Sprague, Jennifer C. Murphy, Melissa L. Riskin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science of the Total Environment
Index ID 70200339
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Earth System Processes Division