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Linking hydrology and stream geochemistry in urban fringe watersheds

Barco, Janet, Hogue, Terri S., Curto, Victoria, Rademacher, Laura
Journal of hydrology 2008 v.360 no.1-4 pp. 31-47
urban areas, watersheds, watershed hydrology, streams, hydrochemistry, nitrate nitrogen, urbanization, surface water, wet season, dry deposition, California
Urbanization represents a dramatic example of human interference with the hydrological cycle. Changes to ground cover affect both the hydrological and geochemical characteristics in a watershed. Ecosystem degradation also occurs in undisturbed watersheds at the “urban fringe” due to regional atmospheric deposition. These urban fringe catchments can also serve as an upstream source of various chemical constituents into downstream (urban) river systems. The current study focuses on the impacts of regional urbanization in the upper Arroyo Seco watershed located on the eastern edge of the Los Angeles basin, where estimates of dry deposition are considered some of the highest in North America. Collected hydrologic, geochemical and atmospheric data were assessed at seasonal time scales to evaluate current hydrochemical dynamics. Stream water chemical composition in the upper Arroyo Seco watershed exhibits significant seasonal variability, particularly for [formula removed]. Almost all study solutes show dilution behavior. However, hydrologically enhanced behavior was observed for [formula removed] with increased concentrations during the wet season. Seasonal stream concentration-discharge relationships were developed using a hyperbolic dilution model. The developed model was then used to predict concentrations for observational gaps in stream water chemical composition, allowing for seasonal and annual mass loadings to be estimated for the downstream urban stream. The hydrological signal in the resultant chemical loads is extremely strong, especially during the wet season. Both observations and model predictions indicate the watershed is a sink for atmospheric nitrate and a source for various cations.