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Digital Data Used to Relate Nutrient Inputs to Water Quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Version 3.0

By John W. Brakebill, and Stephen D. Preston

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Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts are focused on improving water quality, living resources, and ecological habitats by 2010. One aspect of the water-quality restoration is the refinement of strategies designed to implement nutrient-reduction practices within the Bay watershed. These strategies are being refined and implemented by resource managers of the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP), a partnership comprised of various Federal, State, and local agencies that includes jurisdictions within Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an active member of the CBP, provides necessary water-quality information for these Chesapeake Bay nutrient-reduction strategy revisions and evaluations.

The formulation and revision of effective nutrient-reduction strategies requires detailed scientific information and an analytical understanding of the sources, transport, and delivery of nutrients to the Chesapeake Bay. The USGS is supporting these strategies by providing scientific information to resource managers that can help them evaluate and understand these processes. One statistical model available to resource managers is a collection of SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed (SPARROW) attributes, which uses a nonlinear regression approach to spatially relate nutrient sources and watershed characteristics to nutrient loads of streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Developed by the USGS, information generated by SPARROW can help resource managers determine the geographical distribution and relative contribution of nutrient sources and the factors that affect their transport to the Bay.

Nutrient source information representing the late 1990s time period was obtained from several agencies and used to create and compile digital spatial datasets of total nitrogen and total phosphorus contributions that served as input sources to the SPARROW models. These data represent atmospheric deposition, point-source locations, land-use, land-cover, and agricultural sources such as commercial fertilizer and manure applications.

Watershed-characteristics datasets representing factors that affect the transport of nutrients also were compiled from previous applications of the SPARROW models in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Datasets include average-annual precipitation and temperature, slope, soil permeability, and hydrogeomorphic regions.

Nutrient-input and watershed-characteristics datasets representing conditions during the late 1990s were merged with a connected network of stream reaches and watersheds to provide the spatial detail required by SPARROW. Stream-nutrient load estimates for 125 sampling sites (87 for total nitrogen and 103 for total phosphorus) served as the dependent variables for the regressions, and were used to calibrate models of total nitrogen and total phosphorus depicting late 1990s conditions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Spatial data generated for the models can be used to identify the location of nutrient sources, while the models' nutrient estimates can be used to evaluate stream-nutrient load contributed locally by each source evaluated, the amount of local load generated that is transported to the Bay, and the factors that affect the nutrient transport. Applying the SPARROW methodology to late 1990s information completes three time periods (late 1980s, early 1990s, and late 1990s) of viable data that resource managers can use to evaluate the water-quality conditions within the Bay watershed in order to refine restoration goals and nutrient-reduction strategies.

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