WRIR 97-4006

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Asbury, C.E., and Oaksford, E.T., 1997, A Comparison of Drainage Basin Nutrient Inputs with Instream Nutrient Loads for Seven Rivers in Georgia and Florida, 1986-90: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4006, 8 p.


Instream nutrient loads of the Altamaha, Suwannee, St. Johns, Satilla, Ogeechee, Withlacoochee, and Ochlockonee River Basins were computed and compared with nutrient inputs for each basin for the period 1986-90. Nutrient constituents that were considered included nitrate, ammonia, organic nitrogen, and total phosphorus. Sources of nutrients considered for this analysis included atmospheric deposition, fertilizer, animal waste, wastewater-treatment plant discharge, and septic discharge.

The mean nitrogen input ranged from 2,400 kilograms per year per square kilometer (kg/yr)km2 in the Withlacoochee River Basin to 5,470 (kg/yr)km2 in the Altamaha River Basin. The Satilla and Ochlockonee River Basins also had large amounts of nitrogen input per unit area, totaling 5,430 and 4,920 (kg/yr)km2, respectively.

Fertilizer or animal waste, as sources of nitrogen, predominated in all basins. Atmospheric deposition contributed less than one-fourth of the mean total nitrogen input to all basins and was consistently the third largest input in all but the Ogeechee River Basin, where it was the second largest.

The mean total phosphorus input ranged from 331 (kg/yr)km2 in the Withlacoochee River Basin to 1,380 (kg/yr)km2 in both the Altamaha and Satilla River Basins. The Ochlockonee River Basin had a phosphorus input of 1,140 (kg/yr)km2.

Per unit area, the Suwannee River discharged the highest instream mean total nitrogen and phosphorus loads and also discharged higher instream nitrate loads per unit area than the other six rivers. Phosphorus loads in stream discharge were highest in the Suwannee and Ochlockonee Rivers.

The ratio of nutrient outputs to inputs for the seven studied rivers ranged from 4.2 to 14.9 percent, with the St. Johns (14.9 percent) and Suwannee (12.1 percent) Rivers having significantly higher percentages than those from the other basins. The output/input percentages for mean total phosphorus ranged from 1.0 to 7.0 percent, with the St. Johns (6.2 percent) and Suwannee (7.0 percent) Rivers exporting the highest percentage of phosphorus.

Although instream nutrient loads constitute only one of the various pathways nutrients may take in leaving a river basin, only a relatively small part of nutrient input to the basin leaves the basin in stream discharge for the major coastal rivers examined in this study. The actual amount of nutrient transported in a river basin depends on the ways in which nutrients are physically handled, geographically distributed, and chemically assimilated within a river basin.