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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5228

National Water-Quality Assessment Program

Trends in Nutrient Concentrations, Loads, and Yields in Streams in the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Santa Ana Basins, California, 1975–2004

By Charles R. Kratzer, Robert H. Kent, Dina K. Saleh, Donna L. Knifong, Peter D. Dileanis, and James L. Orlando

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (15.5 MB)ABSTRACT

A comprehensive database was assembled for the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Santa Ana Basins in California on nutrient concentrations, flows, and point and nonpoint sources of nutrients for 1975–2004. Most of the data on nutrient concentrations (nitrate, ammonia, total nitrogen, orthophosphate, and total phosphorus) were from the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Information System database (35.2 percent), the California Department of Water Resources (21.9 percent), the University of California at Davis (21.6 percent), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s STOrage and RETrieval database (20.0 percent).

Point-source discharges accounted for less than 1 percent of river flows in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, but accounted for close to 80 percent of the nonstorm flow in the Santa Ana River. Point sources accounted for 4 and 7 percent of the total nitrogen and total phosphorus loads, respectively, in the Sacramento River at Freeport for 1985–2004. Point sources accounted for 8 and 17 percent of the total nitrogen and total phosphorus loads, respectively, in the San Joaquin River near Vernalis for 1985–2004. The volume of wastewater discharged into the Santa Ana River increased almost three-fold over the study period. However, due to improvements in wastewater treatment, the total nitrogen load to the Santa Ana River from point sources in 2004 was approximately the same as in 1975 and the total phosphorus load in 2004 was less than in 1975. Nonpoint sources of nutrients estimated in this study included atmospheric deposition, fertilizer application, manure production, and tile drainage. The estimated dry deposition of nitrogen exceeded wet deposition in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys and in the basin area of the Santa Ana Basin, with ratios of dry to wet deposition of 1.7, 2.8, and 9.8, respectively. Fertilizer application increased appreciably from 1987 to 2004 in all three California basins, although manure production increased in the San Joaquin Basin but decreased in the Sacramento and Santa Ana Basins from 1982 to 2002. Tile drainage accounted for 22 percent of the total nitrogen load in the San Joaquin River near Vernalis for 1985–2004.

Nutrient loads and trends were calculated by using the log-linear multiple-regression model, LOADEST. Loads were calculated for water years 1975–2004 for 22 sites in the Sacramento Basin, 15 sites in the San Joaquin Basin, and 6 sites in the Santa Ana Basin. The average annual load of total nitrogen and total phosphorus for 1985–2004 in subbasins in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Basins were divided by their drainage areas to calculate average annual yield. Total nitrogen yields were greater than 2.45 tons per square mile per year [(tons/mi2)/yr] in about 61 percent of the valley floor in the San Joaquin Basin compared with only about 12 percent of the valley floor in the Sacramento Basin. Total phosphorus yields were greater than 0.34 (tons/mi2)/yr in about 43 percent of the valley floor in the San Joaquin Basin compared with only about 5 percent in the valley floor of the Sacramento Basin. In a stepwise multiple linear-regression analysis of 30 subbasins in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Basins, the most important explanatory variables (out of 11 variables) for the response variable (total nitrogen yield) were the percentage of land use in (1) orchards and vineyards, (2) row crops, and (3) urban categories. For total phosphorus yield, the most important explanatory variable was the amount of fertilizer application plus manure production.

Trends were evaluated for three time periods: 1975–2004, 1985–2004, and 1993–2004. Most trends in flow-adjusted concentrations of nutrients in the Sacramento Basin were downward for all three time periods. The decreasing nutrient trends in the American River at Sacramento and the Sacramento River at Freeport for 1975–2004 were attributed to the consolidation of wastewater in the Sacramento metropolitan area in December 1982 to a discharge point downstream of the Freeport site. Unlike the Sacramento Basin, most trends in flow-adjusted concentrations of nitrate and total nitrogen in the San Joaquin Basin were upward, especially over the 1975–2004 time period. The upward trend in nitrate and total nitrogen at the San Joaquin River near Vernalis site for 1975–2004 was due to many factors, including increases in tile drainage, fertilizer application, and manure production. The opposite trends for nitrate compared to total nitrogen for 1993–2004 at the Salt Slough site (downward trends) and the Mud Slough site (upward trends) was due to the re-routing of all tile drainage to Mud Slough starting in October 1996 with the Grasslands Bypass Project. Most trends in flow-adjusted concentrations of ammonia, orthophosphate, and total phosphorus in the San Joaquin Basin were downward. Because of the significant upward trend in flow at the Santa Ana River downstream of Prado Dam site over the study period (1975–2004), quantitative trends in measured nutrient concentrations were evaluated. These trends generally were downward and were attributed to improvements in wastewater treatment.

First posted March 28, 2011

For additional information contact:
Director, California Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
6000 J Street, Placer Hall
Sacramento, California 95819
http://ca.water.usgs.gov/

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Suggested citation:

Kratzer, C.R., Kent, R.H., Saleh, D.K., Knifong, D.L., Dileanis, P.D., and Orlando, J.L., 2011, Trends in nutrient concentrations, loads, and yields in streams in the Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Santa Ana Basins, California, 1975–2004: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5228, 112 p.



Contents

Foreword

Abstract

Introduction

Description of Study Area

Analysis Techniques

Sources of Data for Nutrient Concentrations and Flow in Streams

Sources of Ancillary Data

Results

Management Strategies Implemented in the Santa Ana Basin

Summary and Conclusions

Acknowledgments

References Cited


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