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Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5171

Prepared in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Estimated Nitrogen Loads from Selected Tributaries in Connecticut Draining to Long Island Sound, 1999–2009

By John R. Mullaney and Gregory E. Schwarz

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (3.45 MB)Abstract

The total nitrogen load to Long Island Sound from Connecticut and contributing areas to the north was estimated for October 1998 to September 2009. Discrete measurements of total nitrogen concentrations and continuous flow data from 37 water-quality monitoring stations in the Long Island Sound watershed were used to compute total annual nitrogen yields and loads. Total annual computed yields and basin characteristics were used to develop a generalized-least squares regression model for use in estimating the total nitrogen yields from unmonitored areas in coastal and central Connecticut. Significant variables in the regression included the percentage of developed land, percentage of row crops, point-source nitrogen yields from wastewater-treatment facilities, and annual mean streamflow.

Computed annual median total nitrogen yields at individual monitoring stations ranged from less than 2,000 pounds per square mile in mostly forested basins (typically less than 10 percent developed land) to more than 13,000 pounds per square mile in urban basins (greater than 40 percent developed) with wastewater-treatment facilities and in one agricultural basin. Medians of computed total annual nitrogen yields for water years 1999–2009 at most stations were similar to those previously computed for water years 1988–98. However, computed medians of annual yields at several stations, including the Naugatuck River, Quinnipiac River, and Hockanum River, were lower than during 1988–98. Nitrogen yields estimated for 26 unmonitored areas downstream from monitoring stations ranged from less than 2,000 pounds per square mile to 34,000 pounds per square mile.

Computed annual total nitrogen loads at the farthest downstream monitoring stations were combined with the corresponding estimates for the downstream unmonitored areas for a combined estimate of the total nitrogen load from the entire study area. Resulting combined total nitrogen loads ranged from 38 to 68 million pounds per year during water years 1999–2009. Total annual loads from the monitored basins represent 63 to 74 percent of the total load. Computed annual nitrogen loads from four stations near the Massachusetts border with Connecticut represent 52 to 54 percent of the total nitrogen load during water years 2008–9, the only years with data for all the border sites.

During the latter part of the 1999–2009 study period, total nitrogen loads to Long Island Sound from the study area appeared to increase slightly. The apparent increase in loads may be due to higher than normal streamflows, which consequently increased nonpoint nitrogen loads during the study, offsetting major reductions of nitrogen from wastewater-treatment facilities. Nitrogen loads from wastewater treatment facilities declined as much as 2.3 million pounds per year in areas of Connecticut upstream from the monitoring stations and as much as 5.8 million pounds per year in unmonitored areas downstream in coastal and central Connecticut.

First posted November 22, 2013

For additional information, contact:
Office Chief, New England Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Connecticut Office
101 Pitkin Street
East Hartford, CT 06108
(860) 291-6740

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Suggested citation:

Mullaney, J.R., and Schwarz, G.E., 2013, Estimated nitrogen loads from selected tributaries in Connecticut draining to Long Island Sound, 1999–2009: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5171, 65 p.,

ISSN 2328–0328 (online)




Data Collection, Data Sources, and Methods of Data Analysis

Estimated Nitrogen Yields and Loads from Long Island Sound Tributaries


References Cited

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

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