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Flow-Specific Trends in River-Water Quality Resulting from the Effects of the Clean Air Act in Three Mesoscale, Forested River Basins in the Northeastern United States Through 2002

Murdoch, Peter S., Shanley, James B.
Environmental monitoring and assessment 2006 v.120 no.1-3 pp. 1-25
air, alkalinity, atmospheric deposition, basins, climate change, data collection, ecosystems, magnesium, nitrates, pollution, river water, rivers, stream flow, sulfates, watersheds, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania
Two new methods for assessing temporal trends in stream-solute concentrations at specific streamflow ranges were applied to long (40 to 50-year) but sparse (bi-weekly to quarterly sampling) stream-water quality data collected at three forested mesoscale basins along an atmospheric deposition gradient in the northeastern United States (one in north-central Pennsylvania, one in southeastern New York, and one in eastern Maine). The three data sets span the period since the implementation of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and its subsequent amendments. Declining sulfate (O ₄ ²⁻) trends since the mid 1960s were identified for all 3 rivers by one or more of the 4 methods of trend detection used. Flow-specific trends were assessed by segmenting the data sets into 3-year and 6-year blocks, then determining concentration-discharge relationships for each block. Declining sulfate (O ₄ ²⁻) trends at median flow were similar to trends determined using a Seasonal Kendall Tau test and Sen slope estimator. The trend of declining O ₄ ²⁻ concentrations differed at high, median and low flow since the mid 1980s at YWC and NR, and at high and low flow at WR, but the trends leveled or reversed at high flow from 1999 through 2002. Trends for the period of record at high flows were similar to medium- and low-flow trends for Ca²⁺+ Mg²⁺ concentrations at WR, non-significant at YWC, and were more negative at low flow than at high flow at NR; trends in nitrate (NO₃ ⁻), and alkalinity (ALK) concentrations were different at different flow conditions, and in ways that are consistent with the hydrology and deposition history at each watershed. Quarterly sampling is adequate for assessing average-flow trends in the chemical parameters assessed over long time periods (~decades). However, with even a modest effort at sampling a range of flow conditions within each year, trends at specified flows for constituents with strong concentration-discharge relationships can be evaluated and may allow early detection of ecosystem response to climate change and pollution management strategies.