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U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5227
Online Version 1.0

Nutrient Enrichment, Phytoplankton Algal Growth, and Estimated Rates of Instream Metabolic Processes in the Quinebaug River Basin, Connecticut, 2000–2001

Photograph showing the Quinebaug River at the outlet of West Thompson Lake, August 2003. Photograph by Jonathan Morrison, U.S. Geological Survey.

A consistent and pervasive pattern of nutrient enrichment was substantiated by water-quality sampling in the Quinebaug River and its tributaries in eastern Connecticut during water years 2000 and 2001. Median total nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recently recommended regional ambient water-quality criteria for streams (0.71 and 0.031 milligrams per liter, respectively). Maximum total phosphorus concentrations exceeded 0.1 milligrams per liter at nearly half the sampled locations in the Quinebaug River Basin. Elevated total nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations were measured at all stations on the mainstem of the Quinebaug River, the French River, and the Little River. Nutrient enrichment was related to municipal wastewater point sources at the sites on the mainstem of the Quinebaug River and French River, and to agricultural nonpoint nutrient sources in the Little River Basin.

Nutrient enrichment and favorable physical factors have resulted in excessive, nuisance algal blooms during summer months, particularly in the numerous impoundments in the Quinebaug River system. Phytoplankton algal density as high as 85,000 cells per milliliter was measured during such nuisance blooms in water years 2000 and 2001. Different hydrologic conditions during the summers of 2000 and 2001 produced very different seston algal populations. Larger amounts of precipitation sustained higher streamflows in the summer of 2000 (than in 2001), which resulted in lower total algal abundance and inhibited the typical algal succession from diatoms to cyanobacteria. Despite this, nearly half of all seston chlorophyll-a concentrations measured during this study exceeded the recommended regional ambient stream-water-quality criterion (3.75 micrograms per liter), and seston chlorophyll-a concentrations as large as 42 micrograms per liter were observed in wastewater-receiving reaches of the Quinebaug River.

Estimates of primary productivity and respiration obtained from diel dissolved oxygen monitoring and from light- and dark-bottle dissolved oxygen measurements demonstrated that instream metabolic processes are consistent with a seston-algae dominant system. The highest estimated maximum primary productivity rate was 1.72 grams of oxygen per cubic meter per hour at the Quinebaug River at Jewett City during September 2001. The observed extremes in diel dissolved oxygen concentrations (less than 5 milligrams per liter) and pH (greater than 9) may periodically stress aquatic organisms in the Quinebaug River Basin.

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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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