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An Analysis of Pooled Monitoring Data in Maryland to Evaluate the Effects of Restoration on Stream Quality in Urbanized Watersheds. Final report

The project examined whether stormwater management practices implemented under MS4 permits can lead to measurable differences in stream conditions compared to similar watersheds with few or no stormwater practices and to highly forested reference watersheds.

Copies of Appendix A and Appendix B are available online.

Potomac Environmental Flows Workshop 2022

In 2021, Commissioners of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) passed a Resolution on Enhancing Water Supply Resilience for the Washington Metropolitan Area. This resolution is the first step in updating the two foundational agreements of the Washington metropolitan area cooperative water supply system: the Low Flow Allocation Agreement (LFAA) of 1978 and the Water Supply Coordination Agreement (WSCA) of 1982. To facilitate such an update the resolution called for the following action items:

  • Develop a Task Force on the WSCA to reinitiate dialogue on revisions that would accurately reflect changing conditions. This includes the need for strengthening water security against spills, cybersecurity attack, and water scarcity and the ability to include additional suppliers;
  • Convene a Work Group to discuss the ten sets of options identified in the 2018 review of the LFAA; and
  • Convene scientific workshops on state-of-the-art approaches to environmental flows for large river systems.

To address the third action item, a virtual workshop was held over one-and-a-half days in May 2022, with the explicit purpose of answering the following questions with respect to the Potomac River, which supplies most of the Washington, D. C., metropolitan area drinking water:

  • Are there other approaches now for determining environmental flows in large, relatively unregulated rivers like the Potomac?
  • If there are, what data, analysis tools, and assessments are needed to make a scientifically defensible change?

The information presented and discussed during the workshop provides input to the LFAA workgroup in the event the group recommends revisiting the current environmental flow-by target used during low flow periods. The question of whether or not to study the flow-by was informally discussed during the workshop but the intent of the workshop was to gather the relevant information, not recommend a course of action.

Potomac Basin Reported Water Use

In accordance with one of the technical recommendations of the Potomac Basin Comprehensive Water Resources Plan’s water use and supplies challenge area, this pamphlet has been produced to document and share high-level results. This pamphlet provides a “report on basin-wise water uses,” and ultimately acts as a first step toward estimating, “projected demands and consumptive demands.”

Improving probabilistic monthly water quantity and quality predictions using a simplified residual-based modeling approach

Uncertainty quantification between simulated and observed water quality simulations needs to be improved. This study generated and evaluated probabilistic hydrologic and water quality predictions in 18 locations across the U.S. using residual-based modeling. A Box-Cox transformation scheme group provided the best predictive uncertainties for all case studies. The tradeoffs in the performance metrics for a single variable predictive uncertainty in a single study watershed were more obvious than those for all hydrologic or water quality cases. Compared to a single realization of simulations, the ensemble average of hydrologic and water quality simulations better represented the predictive uncertainty, especially for large watersheds. This study recommends various opportunities via residual error scheme selection, data monitoring improvement, and hydrologic model enhancement to robust hydrologic and water quality predictive uncertainties. The results could improve the quantification of the predictive uncertainty of hydrologic and water quality simulations and guide probabilistic prediction enhancement.

More information about the paper is available on

Explainable machine learning improves interpretability in the predictive modeling of biological stream conditions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, USA

Anthropogenic alterations have resulted in widespread degradation of stream conditions. To aid in stream restoration and management, baseline estimates of conditions and improved explanation of factors driving their degradation are needed. We used random forests to model biological conditions using a benthic macroinvertebrate index of biotic integrity for small, non-tidal streams (upstream area ≤200 km2) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (CBW) of the mid-Atlantic coast of North America. We utilized several global and local model interpretation tools to improve average and site-specific model inferences, respectively. The model was used to predict condition for 95,867 individual catchments for eight periods (2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2019). Predicted conditions were classified as Poor, FairGood, or Uncertain to align with management needs and individual reach lengths and catchment areas were summed by condition class for the CBW for each period. Global permutation and local Shapley importance values indicated percent of forest, development, and agriculture in upstream catchments had strong impacts on predictions. Development and agriculture negatively influenced stream condition for model average (partial dependence [PD] and accumulated local effect [ALE] plots) and local (individual condition expectation and Shapley value plots) levels. Friedman’s H-statistic indicated large overall interactions for these three land covers, and bivariate global plots (PD and ALE) supported interactions among agriculture and development. Total stream length and catchment area predicted in FairGood conditions decreased then increased over the 19-years (length/area: 66.6/65.4% in 2001, 66.3/65.2% in 2011, and 66.6/65.4% in 2019). Examination of individual catchment predictions between 2001 and 2019 showed those predicted to have the largest decreases in condition had large increases in development; whereas catchments predicted to exhibit the largest increases in condition showed moderate increases in forest cover. Use of global and local interpretative methods together with watershed-wide and individual catchment predictions support conservation practitioners that need to identify widespread and localized patterns, especially acknowledging that management actions typically take place at individual-reach scales.

Find more information on the ScienceDirect page.

Nutrient limitation of phytoplankton in three tributaries of Chesapeake Bay: Detecting responses following nutrient reductions

ABSTRACT: Many coastal ecosystems suffer from eutrophication, algal blooms, and dead zones due to excessive anthropogenic inputs of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). This has led to regional restoration efforts that focus on managing watershed loads of N and P. In Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, dual nutrient reductions of N and P have been pursued since the 1980s. However, it remains unclear whether nutrient limitation – an indicator of restriction of algal growth by supplies of N and P – has changed in the tributaries of Chesapeake Bay following decades of reduction efforts. Toward that end, we analyzed historical data from nutrient-addition bioassay experiments and data from the Chesapeake Bay Long-term Water Quality Monitoring Program for six stations in three tidal tributaries (i.e., Patuxent, Potomac, and Choptank Rivers). Classification and regression tree (CART) models were developed using concurrent collections of water-quality parameters for each bioassay monitoring location during 1990-2003, which satisfactorily predicted the bioassay-based measures of nutrient limitation (classification accuracy = 96%). Predictions from the CART models using water-quality monitoring data showed enhanced nutrient limitation over the period of 1985-2020 at four of the six stations, including the downstream station in each of these three tidal tributaries. These results indicate detectable, long-term water-quality improvements in the tidal tributaries. Overall, this research provides a new analytical tool for detecting signs of ecosystem recovery following nutrient reductions. More broadly, the approach can be adapted to other waterbodies with long-term bioassays and water-quality data sets to detect ecosystem recovery.

See more on the ScienceDirect page.

An Inventory of Potomac Basin Entities with a Role in Sustainable Water Resources Management

This pamphlet is used in concert with a spreadsheet inventory to identify entities in the Potomac basin that either directly or indirectly affect the realization of the Potomac Basin Comprehensive Water Resource Plan’s vision for the basin. It also summarizes the roles, responsibilities, and areas of authority of those entities to inform and integrate future comprehensive planning and implementation activities.

Rapid Response Survey of Cyanobacteria Toxin Levels Downstream of North Fork Shenandoah River Algal Bloom After Tropical Storm Ida, 2021

The Virginia Department of Health issued a Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) Advisory for a 53-mile stretch of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River on August 10, 2021 (Figure 1, left). Samples from multi-species algal mats on the river bottom contained harmful levels of toxins produced by cyanobacteria. Three weeks later, Tropical Storm Ida passed over the North Fork, dumping torrential rain on the watershed. Sharply rising streamflows were expected to scour the benthic algal mats, potentially lysing their cells and releasing toxins as they washed downstream. The ICPRB’s Emergency River Spill Model (ERSM) indicated the scoured material’s leading edge would reach the Potomac River mainstem by September 2nd – 4th and Great Falls near Washington, D. C. by September 3rd – 6th.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality staff confirmed the algal mats were scoured off the river bottom. Water samples collected by ICPRB at the Shenandoah River mouth indicate the storm’s high flows diluted the algal cells and their associated toxins to below-detection levels before they reached the Potomac River. If flows had been less intense, we hypothesize the scoured material and toxins could potentially have reached the Potomac River mainstem. More advanced flow modeling and additional sampling during algal blooms could better characterize the potential transport of scoured or senescing algal blooms in the Shenandoah River under different river conditions.

Scientist sends testing equipment attached to a rope over the side of a bridge. Shenandoah river is below the bridge.

Rt. 340 bridge over Shenandoah River near Harpers Ferry, WV

Nutrient limitation of phytoplankton in Chesapeake Bay: Development of an empirical approach for water-quality management

Understanding the temporal and spatial roles of nutrient limitation on phytoplankton growth is necessary for developing successful management strategies. Chesapeake Bay has well-documented seasonal and spatial variations in nutrient limitation, but it remains unknown whether these patterns of nutrient limitation have changed in response to nutrient management efforts. We analyzed historical data from nutrient bioassay experiments (1992–2002) and data from long-term, fixed-site water-quality monitoring program (1990–2017) to develop empirical approaches for predicting nutrient limitation in the surface waters of the mainstem Bay. Results from classification and regression trees (CART) matched the seasonal and spatial patterns of bioassay-based nutrient limitation in the 1992–2002 period much better than two simpler, non-statistical approaches. An ensemble approach of three selected CART models satisfactorily reproduced the bioassay-based results (classification rate = 99%). This empirical approach can be used to characterize nutrient limitation from long-term water-quality monitoring data on much broader geographic and temporal scales than would be feasible using bioassays, providing a new tool for informing water-quality management. Results from our application of the approach to 21 tidal monitoring stations for the period of 2007–2017 showed modest changes in nutrient limitation patterns, with expanded areas of nitrogen-limitation and contracted areas of nutrient saturation (i.e., not limited by nitrogen or phosphorus). These changes imply that long-term reductions in nitrogen load have led to expanded areas with nutrient-limited phytoplankton growth in the Bay, reflecting long-term water-quality improvements in the context of nutrient enrichment. However, nutrient limitation patterns remain unchanged in the majority of the mainstem, suggesting that nutrient loads should be further reduced to achieve a less nutrient-saturated ecosystem.

Published in the Journal of Water Research, Volume 188, January 2021: