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Pilot Analysis of Maryland Phase I MS4 Permit Water Quality Data

The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) and the Center for Watershed Protection (CWP) conducted a pilot study of water quality data collected at Moores Run in Baltimore City, Airpark Business Center in Carroll County, and Urbana in Frederick County to characterize stormwater discharges and evaluate watershed restoration activities. The overarching objectives were to determine if there are trends in water quality over time and, if any trends are found, attempt to relate them to watershed restoration efforts or the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs). Another goal of the pilot study was to provide recommendations for future analysis of MS4 monitoring data and improving the monitoring requirements in Maryland’s Phase I MS4 permits.

Tables and figures are available here.

2020 Washington Metropolitan Area Water Supply Reliability Study: Demand and Resource Availability Forecast for the Year 2050

Every five years since 1990, ICPRB’s Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations on the Potomac (CO-OP) has conducted a water demand and resource availability forecast for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. These studies assess whether or not the current water supply system will be able to meet the needs of the region 20 or more years in the future.

Learn more about these reports on the CO-OP Long-Term Planning page.

Disentangling the potential effects of land‐use and climate change on stream conditions

Land‐use and climate change are significantly affecting stream ecosystems, yet understanding of their long‐term impacts is hindered by the few studies that have simultaneously investigated their interaction and high variability among future projections. We modeled possible effects of a suite of 2030, 2060, and 2090 land‐use and climate scenarios on the condition of 70,772 small streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, United States. The Chesapeake Basin‐wide Index of Biotic Integrity, a benthic macroinvertebrate multimetric index, was used to represent stream condition. Land‐use scenarios included four Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (A1B, A2, B1, and B2) representing a range of potential landscape futures. Future climate scenarios included quartiles of future climate changes from downscaled Coupled Model Intercomparison Project ‐ Phase 5 (CMIP5) and a watershed‐wide uniform scenario (Lynch2016). We employed random forests analysis to model individual and combined effects of land‐use and climate change on stream conditions. Individual scenarios suggest that by 2090, watershed‐wide conditions may exhibit anywhere from large degradations (e.g., scenarios A1B, A2, and the CMIP5 25th percentile) to small degradations (e.g., scenarios B1, B2, and Lynch2016). Combined land‐use and climate change scenarios highlighted their interaction and predicted, by 2090, watershed‐wide degradation in 16.2% (A2 CMIP5 25th percentile) to 1.0% (B2 Lynch2016) of stream kilometers. A goal for the Chesapeake Bay watershed is to restore 10% of stream kilometers over a 2008 baseline; our results suggest meeting and sustaining this goal until 2090 may require improvement in 11.0%–26.2% of stream kilometers, dependent on land‐use and climate scenario. These results highlight inherent variability among scenarios and the resultant uncertainty of predicted conditions, which reinforces the need to incorporate multiple scenarios of both land‐use (e.g., development, agriculture, etc.) and climate change in future studies to encapsulate the range of potential future conditions. DOI link:

A water quality binning method to infer phytoplankton community structure and function

Aspects of phytoplankton community structure (e.g., taxonomic composition, biomass) and function (e.g., light adaptation, net oxygen production, exudation) can be inferred with a binning method that uses water transparency (Secchi depth), dissolved inorganic nitrogen, and ortho-phosphate to classify phytoplankton habitat conditions in the surface mixed layer. The method creates six habitat categories, forming a disturbance scale from turbid, nutrient-enriched waters (“degraded”) to clear waters with bloom-limiting nutrient concentrations (“reference”). Across this disturbance scale, estuarine phytoplankton exhibit strong differences in chlorophyll a, count-based biomass, trophic mode, average cell size, photopigment cell content, taxonomic dominance, and the frequency of algal blooms. Differences in ambient dissolved oxygen and dissolved organic carbon are also observed. Two alternate states are apparent, separated primarily by water transparency, or clarity.Water transparency determines cellular light-adaptation and the potential for photosynthesis and growth; nutrient concentrations determine how much of that potential can be realized if and when light becomes available. In Chesapeake Bay, Secchi depth thresholds separating the two states are 0.7–0.9 m in shallow, well-mixed, low salinity waters and 1.2–2.1 m in deeper, stratified, higher salinity waters. The water quality binning method offers a conceptual framework that can be used to infer the overall state of a phytoplankton population more accurately than chlorophyll a alone.

The article was published in Estuaries and Coasts (2020). DOI link: Please contact us for a full copy of the report.


Assessing the effectiveness of riparian buffers for reducing organic nitrogen loads in the Coastal Plain of the Chesapeake Bay watershed using a watershed model

Riparian buffers are an important conservation practice to mitigate water quality degradation in the Coastal Plain of the Chesapeake Bay watershed (CBW). Although forested and grassed riparian buffers have been implemented in this region through government programs, the impacts of riparian buffers on water quality have been rarely examined. The objective of this study was to assess the long-term effects of riparian buffers to improve water quality in the Coastal Plain of the CBW. A watershed model, Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), was employed for this study. Considering impacts of model uncertainty (i.e., equifinality) on the effectiveness of riparian buffers, we adopted all parameter sets that produced acceptable simulation results. Multiple riparian buffer implementation scenarios were developed to generate the baseline condition on total organic nitrogen (TON) loads without riparian buffers and examine variation of TON loads with areal coverage of riparian buffers. Through the calibration processes, a total of 235 acceptable parameter sets were identified and used to simulate TON loads. The simulation results indicated that riparian buffers significantly reduce TON loads. Without riparian buffers, annual TON loads from the 220 km2 study watershed were 18 to 34 metric tons, but declined to 8 to 21 metric tons with riparian buffers. The effectiveness of riparian buffers on reducing annual TON loads increased from 17% to 45% with an increase in the extent of riparian buffer implementation. The effectiveness of riparian buffers tended to be higher during early spring than other seasons as high soil water conditions promote occurrence of surface water flow and thus TON loads. Riparian buffers were more efficient on croplands than other land use types due to high soil nutrient levels caused by fertilizer applications. The effectiveness of riparian buffers differed considerably by parameter set. Thus, efforts to consider model uncertainty are important to provide better insight into the impacts of conservation practices. This study supports ongoing riparian buffer programs for the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain by demonstrating the effectiveness of riparian buffers and informing implementation guidelines.

Published in the Journal of Hydrology, Volume 585, June 2020:

Creating a stream health baseline for the Chesapeake basin from monitoring and model data

This report describes how monitoring and model data were analyzed and combined to generate a preliminary estimate of acceptable stream health in the Chesapeake Bay basin for the 2006 – 2011 baseline period. Streams in about 73% of the basin’s 64,020 sq. miles of drainage area were evaluated with monitoring results, and output from a predictive model was used to estimate stream health in the remaining 27%. Stream health was measured with the bioregion, family-level version of the “Chessie BIBI,” a multi-metric index for stream macroinvertebrate communities. Index scores are normally expressed as one of five index ratings: Excellent or Good (well-functioning), Fair (considered satisfactory), and Poor or Very Poor (stressed or poorly-functioning). Four versions of the predictive model were developed and tested, and the selected version outputs results as three-ratings: Excellent/Good, Fair, and Poor/Very Poor. The five ratings in the monitoring data were re-grouped to match the three ratings of the selected predictive model. The monitoring- and model-based ratings were then area-weighted to reduce bias caused by uneven sample densities and aggregated to the Chesapeake basin scale, with monitoring results given preference. The combined results suggest approximately 60% of the basin’s area had acceptable stream ratings (Excellent, Good, or Fair) during 2006 – 2011. This estimate is a preliminary baseline for the Chesapeake Bay Program’s stream health goal. A final baseline estimate will be produced after a higher resolution stream layer becomes available and acceptable stream health can be estimated as a percent of the basin’s stream miles.