Longitudinal stream synoptic monitoring tracks chemicals along watershed continuums: a typology of trends


There are challenges in monitoring and managing water quality due to spatial and temporal heterogeneity in contaminant sources, transport, and transformations. We demonstrate the importance of longitudinal stream synoptic (LSS) monitoring, which can track combinations of water quality parameters along flowpaths across space and time. Specifically, we analyze longitudinal patterns of chemical mixtures of carbon, nutrients, greenhouse gasses, salts, and metals concentrations along 10 flowpaths draining 1,765 km2 of the Chesapeake Bay region. These 10 longitudinal stream flowpaths are drained by watersheds experiencing either urban degradation, forest and wetland conservation, or stream and floodplain restoration. Along the 10 longitudinal stream flowpaths, we monitored over 300 total sampling sites along a combined stream length of 337 km. Synoptic monitoring along longitudinal flowpaths revealed: (1) increasing, decreasing, piecewise, or no trends and transitions in water quality with increasing distance downstream, which provide insights into water quality processes along flowpaths; (2) longitudinal trends and transitions in water quality along flowpaths can be quantified and compared using simple linear and non-linear statistical relationships with distance downstream and/or land use/land cover attributes, (3) attenuation and transformation of chemical cocktails along flowpaths depend on: spatial scales, pollution sources, and transitions in land use and management, hydrology, and restoration. We compared our LSS patterns with others from the global literature to synthesize a typology of longitudinal water quality trends and transitions in streams and rivers based on hydrological, biological, and geochemical processes. Applications of LSS monitoring along flowpaths from our results and the literature reveal: (1) if there are shifts in pollution sources, trends, and transitions along flowpaths, (2) which pollution sources can spread further downstream to sensitive receiving waters such as drinking water supplies and coastal zones, and (3) if transitions in land use, conservation, management, or restoration can attenuate downstream transport of pollution sources. Our typology of longitudinal water quality responses along flowpaths combines many observations across suites of chemicals that can follow predictable patterns based on watershed characteristics. Our typology of longitudinal water quality responses also provides a foundation for future studies, watershed assessments, evaluating watershed management and stream restoration, and comparing watershed responses to non-point and point pollution sources along streams and rivers. LSS monitoring, which integrates both spatial and temporal dimensions and considers multiple contaminants together (a chemical cocktail approach), can be a comprehensive strategy for tracking sources, fate, and transport of pollutants along stream flowpaths and making comparisons of water quality patterns across different watersheds and regions.

carbon, nutrients, metals, salt, drinking water, stream restoration, stormwater management, urban watershed continuum