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Nitrogen and Aquatic Systems

Nitrogen pollution is emerging as a major threat to coastal watersheds, estuaries and embayments, and the communities within their watersheds.   Excess N in aquatic systems can contaminate potable drinking water supplies.  Nitrogen loading from watersheds can spur harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, decline of eelgrass, and destruction of critical spawning habitats in coastal waters.  Coastal communities in New England and along the entire East Coast of the Atlantic [e.g., Long Island Sound, CT; Cape Cod, AM; Pawcatuck River, RI; Christina Reservoir, ME; Neuse River estuary, NC] have been forced to address N pollution as a result of state and federal water quality programs such as TMDLs (Total Maximum Daily Loads) that can mandate community investments in N controls.

The sources, sinks, and conveyance of N are highly landscape and hydrology dependent.  N export from urban and suburban watersheds is much higher than from forested watersheds, although lower than from agricultural watersheds.  High concentrations of nitrate in shallow groundwater and streams are correlated with agricultural land use and unsewered residential developments.  Sink areas include wetlands, hydric soils, reservoirs, small-order streams and impoundments.  In particular, riparian wetlands can be a significant sink for N due to the combination of surface filtering of sediments, plant and microbial uptake, and subsurface denitrification.  Studies in both urbanizing and agricultural watersheds have demonstrated that riparian restoration can reduce the delivery of nitrogen to streams

References

Clausen, J. C., K. Guillard, C. M. Sigmund and K. M. Dors. 2000. Water Quality Changes from Riparian Buffer Restoration in Connecticut. Journal of Environmental Quality 29(6): 1751-1761.

Conley, D.J, H. W. Paerl, R. W. Howarth, D. F. Boesch, S. P. Seitzinger, K. E. Havens, C. Lancelot, G. E. Liken. 2009. Controlling Eutrophication: Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Science. 323:1014-1015.

Gold, A.J., P.M. Groffman, K. Addy, D.Q. Kellogg, M. Stolt, and A.E. Rosenblatt.  2001.  Landscape attributes as controls on ground water nitrate removal capacity of riparian zones.  Journal of the American Water Resources Association  27:1457-1464.

Groffman, Peter M., D. J. Bain, L.E. Band, K.T. Belt, G.S. Brush, J.M. Grove, R.V. Pouyat, I.C. Yesilonis, and W.C. Zipperer. 2003. Down by the riverside: urban riparian ecology. Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment 1:315-321.

Groffman, Peter M., Neely L. Law, Kenneth T. Belt, Lawrence E. Band, and Gary T. Fisher. 2004. Nitrogen fluxes and retention in urban watershed ecosystems. Ecosystems Volume 7: 393-403.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection. 2010. Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Report Prestile Stream (& Christina Reservoir) Aroostook County, Maine 

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.  2008.  Inter-municipal Watershed Planning & TMDL Implementation to Restore Embayment Water Quality on Cape Cod: Three Case Studies of Towns Sharing Coastal Watersheds.

National Research Council (NRC).  2000.  Clean coastal waters: Understanding and reducing the effects of nutrient pollution. National Academies Press.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation and Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. 2000.  A total maximum daily load analysis to achieve water quality standards for dissolved oxygen in Long Island Sound.  57pp.

Nixon, S. W. 1995. Coastal marine eutrophication: A definition, social causes and future concerns. Ophelia, International Journal of Marine Biology 41:199-219.

Nixon, S. W., B. Buckley, S. Granger, and J. Bintz. 2001. Responses of Very Shallow Marine Ecosystems to Nutrient Enrichment. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment 7:1457-1481.

North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 1999. Total Maximum Daily Load for Total Nitrogen to the NeuseRiver Estuary, NC; 1999

Nowicki, B. and A. J. Gold.  2008.  Nutrient transport in groundwater at the coastal margin.  In:  Desbonnet, A. Costal-Pierce, B.A. (Eds), Science foe Ecosystem-based Management: Narragansett Bay in the 21st Century.  Springer Series in Environmental Management, New York NY.  Pages 67-100.

Oviatt, C., P. Doering, B. Nowicki, L. Reed, J. Cole, J. Frithsen. 1995.  An ecosystem level experiment on nutrient limitation in temperate coastal marine environment.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 116:171-179

Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. 2010.  Total Maximum Daily Load Analysis for the Pawcatuck River and Little Narragansett Bay Waters.

Short, F. T., and D. M. Burdick. 1996.  Quantifying Eelgrass Habitat Loss in Relation to Housing Development and Nitrogen Loading in Waquoit Bay, Massachusetts.  Estuaries 19:730-739.

Stow, C.A., M.E Borsuk, and K.H. Reckhow.  2011.  Nitrogen TMDL development in the Neuse River watershed: An imperative for adaptive management.  Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education 122:16-26.

Valiela, I., J. Costa, K. Foreman, J. M. Teal, B. Howes, and D. Aubrey.  1990.  Transport of groundwater-borne nutrients from watersheds and their effects on coastal waters.  Biogeochem 10:177-197.