USGS Publications—Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5078

Concentrations, Fluxes, and Yields of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Suspended Sediment in the Illinois River Basin, 1996-2000

Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5078

By Paul J. Terrio

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Concentrations, spatial and temporal variations, and fluxes of nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended sediment were determined for 16 streams in the Illinois River Basin, Illinois from October 1996 through September 2000. Water samples were collected through the National Water-Quality Assessmentís Lower Illinois River Basin (LIRB) and Upper Illinois River Basin (UIRB) Study Units on a monthly to weekly frequency from watersheds representing predominantly agricultural and urban land, as well as areas of mixed land-use.

Streams in agricultural watersheds had high concentrations and fluxes of nitrate nitrogen, whereas streams in predominantly urban watersheds had high concentrations (above background levels) of ammonia nitrogen, organic nitrogen, and phosphorus. Median concentrations of nitrate nitrogen and total phosphorus were similar at the two Illinois River sampling stations (Illinois River at Ottawa, Ill. and Illinois River at Valley City, Ill.) that represented the downstream points of the UIRB and LIRB Study Units, respectively, and integrated multiple land-use areas.

Concentrations of nitrogen were typically highest in the spring and lowest in the fall in agricultural watersheds, but highest in the winter in urban watersheds. Phosphorus concentrations in urban watersheds were highest in the fall and winter, but there was minimal seasonal variation in phosphorus concentrations in agricultural watersheds. Concentrations of nitrate and total nitrogen were affected primarily by non-point sources and hydrologic factors such as streamflow, storm intensity, watershed configuration, and soil permeability, whereas concentrations of phosphorus were affected largely by point-source contributions that typically have little seasonal variation. Seasonal variation in hydrologic conditions was an important factor for seasonal variation in nutrient concentration.

Fluxes and yields of nitrogen and phosphorus forms varied substantially throughout the Illinois River Basin, and yields of specific nutrient forms were determined primarily by upstream land uses. Yields of nitrate nitrogen were highest in predominantly agricultural watersheds, whereas yields of phosphorus and ammonia nitrogen were highest in urban watersheds with wastewater effluent contributions. Yields of both total nitrogen and total phosphorus were similar at the two Illinois River stations representing the integrated UIRB and LIRB Study Units.

Concentrations of suspended sediment ranged from 1 to 3,110 milligrams per liter (mg/L), with median concentrations generally higher in the UIRB. Suspended-sediment concentrations were highest and most variable in the LaMoine River Basin. The median concentration of suspended sediment in the Illinois River at Valley City, Ill. (155 mg/L) was twice as high as that at Ottawa, Ill. (80 mg/L).

Fluxes of suspended sediment generally corresponded to watershed size and yields from agricultural watersheds were larger than yields from urban watersheds. The flux in the Illinois River at Valley City, Ill. (4,880,000 tons per year) was approximately four times the flux in the Illinois River at Ottawa, Ill. (1,060,000 tons per year).

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For more information contact the lead author Paul Terrio.


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