• Open Access

Estimating Contributions of Nitrate and Herbicides From Groundwater to Headwater Streams, Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain, United States


  • Paper No. JAWRA-11-0038-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA). Discussions are open until six months from print publication.

  • Re-use of this article is permitted in accordance with the Terms and Conditions set out at http://wileyonlinelibrary.com/onlineopen#OnlineOpen_Terms

(E-Mail/Ator: swator@usgs.gov).


Abstract:  Groundwater transport often complicates understanding of surface-water contamination. We estimated the regional flux of nitrate and selected herbicides from groundwater to nontidal headwater streams of the Atlantic Coastal Plain (New Jersey through North Carolina) based on late-winter or spring base-flow samples from 174 streams. Sampled streams were selected randomly, and flux estimates are based on resulting population estimates rather than on empirical models, which have been used previously for similar estimates. Base-flow flux in the estimated 8,834 headwater streams of the study area are an estimated 21,200 kg/day of nitrate (as N) and 5.83, 0.565, and 20.7 kg/day of alachlor, atrazine, and metolachlor (and selected degradates), respectively. Base-flow flux of alachlor and metolachlor is <3% of the total base-flow flux of those compounds plus degradates. Base-flow flux of nitrate and herbicides as a percentage of applications is typically highest in well-drained areas and lowest in areas with abundant poor drainage and anoxic conditions. In Coastal Plain watersheds of Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, <2% of applied nitrogen reaches headwater streams as base flow. On the Delmarva Peninsula part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, however, more than 10% of such applications are transported through groundwater to streams, and base-flow nitrate flux represents 70% of total nitrogen flux in headwater streams.