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Keywords:

  • water quality;
  • nonpoint source pollution;
  • mass balance;
  • nutrient loads;
  • nutrient trends;
  • correlation analysis;
  • Mobile River

ABSTRACT: A nutrient mass balance — accounting for nutrient inputs from atmospheric deposition, fertilizer, crop nitrogen fixation, and point source effluents; and nutrient outputs, including crop harvest and storage — was calculated for 18 subbasins in the Mobile River Basin, and trends (1970 to 1997) were evaluated as part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. Agricultural nonpoint nitrogen and phosphorus sources and urban nonpoint nitrogen sources are the most important factors associated with nutrients in this system. More than 30 percent of nitrogen yield in two basins and phosphorus yield in eight basins can be attributed to urban point source nutrient inputs. The total nitrogen yield (1.3 tons per square mile per year) for the Tombigbee River, which drains a greater percentage of agricultural (row crop) land use, was larger than the total nitrogen yield (0.99 tons per square mile per year) for the Alabama River. Decreasing trends of total nitrogen concentrations in the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers indicate that a reduction occurred from 1975 to 1997 in the nitrogen contributions to Mobile Bay from the Mobile River. Nitrogen concentrations also decreased (1980 to 1995) in the Black Warrior River, one of the major tributaries to the Tombigbee River. Total phosphorus concentrations increased from 1970 to 1996 at three urban influenced sites on the Etowah River in Georgia. Multiple regression analysis indicates a distinct association between water quality in the streams of the Mobile River drainage basin and agricultural activities in the basin.