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Title: Long-term assessment of floodplain reconnection as a stream restoration approach for managing nitrogen in ground and surface waters

Stream restoration is a popular approach for managing nitrogen (N) in degraded, flashy urban streams. Here, we investigated the long-term effects of stream restoration involving floodplain reconnection on riparian and in-stream N transport and transformation in an urban stream in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We examined relationships between hydrology, chemistry, and biology using a Before/After-Control/Impact (BACI) study design to determine how hydrologic flashiness, nitrate (NO3) concentrations (mg/L), and N flux, both NO3and total N (kg/yr), changed after the restoration and floodplain hydrologic reconnection to its stream channel. We examined two independent surface water and groundwater data sets (EPA and USGS) collected from 2002–2012 at our study sites in the Minebank Run watershed. Restoration was completed during 2004 and 2005. Afterward, the monthly hydrologic flashiness index, based on mean monthly discharge, decreased over time from 2002 and 2008. However, from 2008–2012 hydrologic flashiness returned to pre-restoration levels. Based on the EPA data set, NO3concentration in groundwater and surface water was significantly less after restoration while the control site showed no change. DOC and NO3were negatively related before and after restoration suggesting C limitation of N transformations. Long-term trends in surface water NO3concentrations based on USGS surface water data showed downward more » trends after restoration at both the restored and control sites, whereas specific conductance showed no trend. Comparisons of NO3concentrations with Clconcentrations and specific conductance in both ground and surface waters suggested that NO3reduction after restoration was not due to dilution or load reductions from the watershed. Modeled NO3flux decreased post restoration over time but the rate of decrease was reduced likely due to failure of restoration features that facilitated N transformations. Groundwater NO3concentrations varied among stream features suggesting that some engineered features may be functionally better at creating optimal conditions for N retention. However, some engineered features eroded and failed post restoration thereby reducing efficacy of the stream restoration to reduce flashiness and NO3flux. N management via stream restoration will be most effective where flashiness can be reduced and DOC made available for denitrifiers. Stream restoration may be an important component of holistic watershed management including stormwater management and nutrient source control if stream restoration and floodplain reconnection can be done in a manner to resist the erosive effects of large storm events that can degrade streams to pre-restoration conditions. Long-term evolution of water quality functions in response to degradation of restored stream channels and floodplains from urban stressors and storms over time warrants further study, however.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Urban Ecosystems
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 879-907
Springer Science + Business Media
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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