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Keywords:

  • surface water/ground-water interactions;
  • nonpoint source pollution;
  • nutrients;
  • transport and fate;
  • ground-water hydrology;
  • wetlands

Abstract:  Nonpoint source pollution, which contributes to contamination of surface waters, is difficult to control. Some pollutants, particularly nitrate (inline image), are predominantly transmitted through ground water. Riparian buffer zones have the potential to remove contaminants from ground water and reduce the amount of inline image that enters surface water. This is a justification for setting aside vegetated buffer strips along waterways. Many riparian zone hydrologic models assume uniform ground-water flow through organic-rich soil under reducing conditions, leading to effective removal of ground-water inline image prior to discharge into a stream. However, in a small first-order stream in the mid-Atlantic coastal plain, base-flow generation was highly variable (spatially and temporally). Average base-flow inline image loads were greater in winter than summer, and higher during a wetter year than in dryer years. Specific sections of the stream consistently received greater amounts of high inline image ground water than others. Areas within the riparian zone responsible for most of the inline image exported from the watershed are termed “critical areas.” Over this 5-year study, most of the inline image exported during base flow originated from a critical area comprising less than 10% of the total riparian zone land area. Allocation of resources to address and improve mitigation function in critical areas should be a priority for continued riparian zone research.