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Fingerprinting the sources of suspended sediment delivery to a large municipal drinking water reservoir: Falls Lake, Neuse River, North Carolina, USA

Mark T. Voli, DelWayne R. Bohnenstiehl, Elana Leithold, Viktor Polyakov, Karl W. Wegmann, Christopher L. Osburn
Journal of soils and sediments 2013 v.13 no.10 pp. 1692-1707
alluvium, bank erosion, construction materials, drinking water, forests, lakes, logging, nonpoint source pollution, pastures, pollution load, public water supply, radionuclides, riparian areas, rivers, roads, sediment yield, stream channels, suspended sediment, turbidity, valleys, water quality, water reservoirs, watersheds, North Carolina
PURPOSE: We employ a geochemical-fingerprinting approach to estimate the source of suspended sediments collected from tributaries entering Falls Lake, a 50-km² drinking water reservoir on the Neuse River, North Carolina, USA. Many of the major tributaries to the lake are on North Carolina’s 303(d) list for impaired streams, and in 2008, the lake was added to that list because of high values of turbidity, likely sourced from tributary streams. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Suspended sediments were collected from four streams with a time-integrated sampler during high-flow events. In addition, composite sediment samples representing potential sources were collected from stream banks, forests, pastures, construction sites, dirt and paved roads, and road cuts within tributary basins. Radiocarbon dating and magnetic susceptibility measurements were used to determine the origin of stream bank alluvial deposits. Sediment samples were analyzed for the concentrations of 55 elements and two radionuclides in order to identify tracers capable of distinguishing between potential sediment sources. The relative sediment source contributions were determined by applying a Monte Carlo simulation that parameterized the geochemical tracer data in a mixing model. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Radiocarbon and magnetic susceptibility measurements confirmed the presence of “legacy” sediment in the Ellerbe and New Light Creek valley bottoms. Mixing model results demonstrate that stream bank erosion is the largest contributor to the suspended sediment load in New Light Creek (62%), Ellerbe Creek (58%), and Little Lick Creek (33%), and is the second largest contributor in Lick Creek (27%) behind construction sites (43%). CONCLUSIONS: We find that stream bank erosion is the largest nonpoint source contributor to the suspended sediment load in three of the four catchments and is therefore a significant source of turbidity in Falls Lake. The presence of legacy sediment appears to coincide with increased contributions from stream bank erosion in Ellerbe and New Light creeks. Active construction sites and timber harvesting were also significant sources of suspended sediment. Water quality mitigation efforts need to consider nonpoint-source contributions from stream bank erosion of valley bottom sediments aggraded after European settlement.