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Application of Spatially Referenced Regression Modeling for the Evaluation of Total Nitrogen Loading in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

By Stephen D. Preston and John W. Brakebill (U.S. Geological Survey)

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Abstract

The reduction of stream nutrient loads is an important part of current efforts to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. To design programs that will effectively reduce stream nutrient loading, resource managers need spatially detailed information that describes the location of nutrient sources and the watershed factors that affect delivery of nutrients to the Bay. To address this need, the U.S. Geological Survey has developed a set of spatially referenced regression models for the evaluation of nutrient loading in the watershed. The technique applied for this purpose is referred to as “SPARROW” (SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes), which is a statistical modeling approach that retains spatial referencing for illustrating predictions, and for relating upstream nutrient sources to downstream nutrient loads. SPARROW is based on a digital stream-network data set that is composed of stream segments (reaches) that are attributed with traveltime and connectivity information. Drainage-basin boundaries are defined for each stream reach in the network data set through the use of a digital elevation model. For the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the spatial network was developed using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s River Reach File 1 digital stream network, and is composed of 1,408 stream reaches and watershed segments.

To develop a SPARROW model for total nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, data sets for sources and basin characteristics were incorporated into the spatial network and related to stream-loading information by using a nonlinear regression model approach. Total nitrogen source variables that were statistically significant in the model include point sources, urban area, fertilizer application, manure generation and atmospheric deposition. Total nitrogen loss variables that were significant in the model include soil permeability and instream-loss rates for four stream-reach classes. Applications of SPARROW for evaluating total nitrogen loading in the Chesapeake Bay watershed include the illustration of the spatial distributions of total nitrogen yields and of the potential for delivery of those yields to the Bay. This information is being used by the Chesapeake Bay Program to target nutrient-reduction areas (Priority Nutrient Reduction Areas) and to design nutrient-load reduction plans that are specific to each tributary (Tributary Strategies).


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