Point-Source Nutrient Loads to Streams of the Conterminous United States, 2012

Data Series 1101
By:  and 



Total nitrogen and phosphorous loads were estimated for 5,430 major point-source facilities (all types) and 11,537 minor wastewater treatment facilities discharging to streams in the conterminous United States during 2012. Facilities classified as a major discharger are typically a facility that discharges greater than one million gallons of water per day however some industrial facilities are classified as a major based on specific criteria developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System state program. Data documenting discharge information from point sources were obtained from the EPA’s Integrated Compliance Information System (ICIS) and Permit Compliance System (PCS). When available, actual nutrient concentration measurements were used to calculate point-source loads. In the many cases in which concentration data were not available in either the ICIS or PCS databases, typical pollutant concentrations (TPCs) were developed using data from similar facilities. A new method for calculating TPCs was implemented that allows varying amounts of nutrient concentration data and (or) varying numbers of facilities to determine TPCs. This new method minimized the effect that any single facility discharging extremely large nutrient concentrations had on resultant TPC values. Because of the smaller TPC values from this new TPC method, the total nutrient load for many states was reduced compared to previous TPC methods.

Major wastewater treatment facilities are the largest contributor of nutrient loads to streams even though there are almost three times as many minor wastewater treatment facilities. Specifically, 4,218 major wastewater treatment facilities account for 94 percent of the total nitrogen load for the conterminous United States, whereas 11,397 minor wastewater treatment facilities contribute 6 percent of the total nitrogen load. Total phosphorous loads are similarly divided among major (93 percent) and minor (7 percent) wastewater treatment facilities. Total nitrogen loads, including all facility types, primarily are from wastewater treatment facilities and some petroleum refining facilities. Total phosphorous loads also are primarily from wastewater treatment facilities, but several manufacturing facilities such as corn milling, pulp and paper mills, and industrial chemical facilities also contribute to total phosphorous loads.

Suggested Citation

Skinner, K.D., and Maupin, M.A., 2019, Point-source nutrient loads to streams of the conterminous United States, 2012: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 1101, 13 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ds1101.

ISSN: 2327-638X (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Point-Source Nutrient Loads
  • Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Point-source nutrient loads to streams of the conterminous United States, 2012
Series title Data Series
Series number 1101
DOI 10.3133/ds1101
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Idaho Water Science Center
Description Report: vi, 13 p.; Data Release
Country United States
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details