Water Quality of Selected Rivers in the New England Coastal Basins in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, 1998-2000

By Kimberly W. Campo, Sarah M. Flanagan, and Keith W. Robinson

U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 03-4210

The report is available in PDF format.


Nine rivers were monitored routinely for a variety of field conditions, dissolved ions, and nutrients during 1998-2000 as part of the New England Coastal Basins (NECB) study of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. The nine rivers, located primarily in the Boston metropolitan area, represented a gradient of increasing urbanization from 1 to 68 percent urban land use. Additional water samples were collected and analyzed for pesticides and volatile organic compounds at two of the nine rivers. Specific conductance data from all rivers were correlated with urban land use; specific conductance values increased during winter at some sites indicating the effect of road de-icing applications. In the more intensely urbanized basins, concentrations of sodium and chloride were high during winter and likely are attributed to road de-icing applications. Concentrations of total nitrogen and the various inorganic and organic nitrogen species were correlated with the percentage of urban land in the drainage basin. Total phosphorus concentrations also were correlated with urbanization in the drainage basin, but only for rivers draining less than 50 square miles. Preliminary U.S. Environmental Protection Agency total nitrogen and total phosphorus criteria for the rivers in the area were frequently exceeded at many of the rivers sampled.

At the two sites monitored for pesticides and volatile organic compounds, the Aberjona and Charles Rivers near Boston, greater detection frequencies of pesticides were in samples from the spring and summer when pesticide usage was greatest. At both sites, herbicides were detected more commonly than insecticides. The herbicides prometon and atrazine and the insecticide diazinon were detected in over 50 percent of all samples collected from both rivers. No water samples contained pesticide concentrations exceeding any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standard or criteria for protecting freshwater aquatic life. The volatile organic compounds trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, and cis-1,2- dichloroethylene--all solvents and de-greasers--were detected in all water samples from both rivers. The gasoline oxygenate methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and the disinfection by-product chloroform were detected in all but one water sample from the two rivers. Two water samples from the Charles River had trichloroethylene concentrations that exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level of 5 micrograms per liter for drinking water.

Selected water-quality data from two NCEB rivers in the Boston metropolitan area were compared to two similarly sized intensely urban rivers in another NAWQA study area in the New York City metropolitan area and to other urban rivers sampled as part of the NAWQA Program nationally. Nutrient total nitrogen and total phosphorus concentrations and yields were less in the NECB study area than in the other study areas. In addition, the pesticides atrazine, carbaryl, diazinon, and prometon were detected less frequently and at lower concentrations in the two NECB rivers than in the New York City area streams or in the other urban NAWQA streams. Concentrations of the insecticides diazinon and carbaryl were detected more frequently and at higher concentrations in the NECB study area than in the other urban rivers sampled by NAWQA nationally. Detection frequency and concentrations of volatile organic compounds generally were higher in the two NECB streams than in the New York City area streams or in other urban NAWQA streams.




Purpose and Scope

Description of the New England Coastal Basins Study Area


Study Design

Indicator Basins

Integrator Basins

Data Collection and Analysis

Data Collection

Data Analysis

Water Quality of Selected New England Coastal Basins Rivers

Streamflow Conditions

Field Measurements

Dissolved Ions





Volatile Organic Compounds

Water-Quality Conditions of Monitoring Sites in the New England Coastal Basins, Long Island-New Jersey Coastal Drainages, and Other National Water-Quality Assessment Program Urban Sites



Volatile Organic Compounds

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited


Appendix 1. Constituents analyzed in surface-water samples from fixed sites in the New England Coastal Basins study area, 1998-2000


Appendix 2. Pesticides and degradation products analyzed in surface-water samples from the Aberjona and Charles Rivers in the New England Coastal Basins study area, 1998-2000


Appendix 3. Volatile organic compounds analyzed in surface-water samples from the Aberjona and Charles Rivers in the New England Coastal Basins study area, 1998-2000

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