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  1. Whalen, Joann (Ed.)

    Residential landscapes are essential to the sustainability of large areas of the United States. However, spatial and temporal variation across multiple domains complicates developing policies to balance these systems’ environmental, economic, and equity dimensions. We conducted multidisciplinary studies in the Baltimore, MD, USA, metropolitan area to identify locations (hotspots) or times (hot moments) with a disproportionate influence on nitrogen export, a widespread environmental concern. Results showed high variation in the inherent vulnerability/sensitivity of individual parcels to cause environmental damage and in the knowledge and practices of individual managers. To the extent that hotspots are the result of management choices by homeowners, there are straightforward approaches to improve outcomes, e.g. fertilizer restrictions and incentives to reduce fertilizer use. If, however, hotspots arise from the configuration and inherent characteristics of parcels and neighborhoods, efforts to improve outcomes may involve more intensive and complex interventions, such as conversion to alternative ecosystem types.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 29, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Anthropogenic nitrogen (N) inputs to the landscape have serious consequences for inland and coastal waters. Reservoirs are effective at mitigating downstream N fluxes but measurements have generally focused on large reservoirs and have not considered seasonal variability or all N forms. In this study, we conducted an N mass balance in eight small reservoirs (surface area <0.55 km2) in coastal New England over annual time periods, including both inorganic and organic forms of N. We found that small reservoirs have high capacity for dissolved inorganic N (DIN) retention during low and moderate discharge, but are roughly in balance for DIN at higher discharge. Because proportional DIN retention occurred when N inputs were at their lowest, their effect on downstream N fluxes is small over annual time frames. Further, dissolved organic N (DON) was also evident during low flow late in the warm season. Accounting for DON production, the net effect of reservoirs on total dissolved N (TDN) fluxes was limited. These transformations between inorganic and organic N should be considered when evaluating the effect of small reservoirs on TDN fluxes over seasonal and annual timescales. With dam removal becoming a common solution to aging, unsafe dams, their ability to retain or produce N must be scrutinized at longer time scales while accounting for the complete N pool to better comprehend the effect their reservoirs have on downstream waters.

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  3. There are challenges in monitoring and managing water quality due to spatial and temporal heterogeneity in contaminant sources, transport, and transformations. We demonstrate the importance of longitudinal stream synoptic (LSS) monitoring, which can track combinations of water quality parameters along flowpaths across space and time. Specifically, we analyze longitudinal patterns of chemical mixtures of carbon, nutrients, greenhouse gasses, salts, and metals concentrations along 10 flowpaths draining 1,765 km 2 of the Chesapeake Bay region. These 10 longitudinal stream flowpaths are drained by watersheds experiencing either urban degradation, forest and wetland conservation, or stream and floodplain restoration. Along the 10 longitudinal stream flowpaths, we monitored over 300 total sampling sites along a combined stream length of 337 km. Synoptic monitoring along longitudinal flowpaths revealed: (1) increasing, decreasing, piecewise, or no trends and transitions in water quality with increasing distance downstream, which provide insights into water quality processes along flowpaths; (2) longitudinal trends and transitions in water quality along flowpaths can be quantified and compared using simple linear and non-linear statistical relationships with distance downstream and/or land use/land cover attributes, (3) attenuation and transformation of chemical cocktails along flowpaths depend on: spatial scales, pollution sources, and transitions in land use and management, hydrology, and restoration. We compared our LSS patterns with others from the global literature to synthesize a typology of longitudinal water quality trends and transitions in streams and rivers based on hydrological, biological, and geochemical processes. Applications of LSS monitoring along flowpaths from our results and the literature reveal: (1) if there are shifts in pollution sources, trends, and transitions along flowpaths, (2) which pollution sources can spread further downstream to sensitive receiving waters such as drinking water supplies and coastal zones, and (3) if transitions in land use, conservation, management, or restoration can attenuate downstream transport of pollution sources. Our typology of longitudinal water quality responses along flowpaths combines many observations across suites of chemicals that can follow predictable patterns based on watershed characteristics. Our typology of longitudinal water quality responses also provides a foundation for future studies, watershed assessments, evaluating watershed management and stream restoration, and comparing watershed responses to non-point and point pollution sources along streams and rivers. LSS monitoring, which integrates both spatial and temporal dimensions and considers multiple contaminants together (a chemical cocktail approach), can be a comprehensive strategy for tracking sources, fate, and transport of pollutants along stream flowpaths and making comparisons of water quality patterns across different watersheds and regions. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
  5. Abstract

    Riparian zones are key ecotones that buffer aquatic ecosystems through removal of nitrogen (N) via processes such as denitrification. However, how dams alter riparian N cycling and buffering capacity is poorly understood. Here, we hypothesized that elevated groundwater and anoxia due to the backup of stream water above milldams may enhance denitrification. We assessed denitrification rates (using denitrification enzyme assays) and potential controlling factors in riparian sediments at various depths upstream and downstream of two relict U.S. mid‐Atlantic milldams. Denitrification was not significantly different between upstream and downstream, although was greater per river km upstream considering deeper and wider geometries. Further, denitrification typically occurred in hydrologically variable shallow sediments where nitrate‐N and organic matter were most concentrated. At depths below 1 m, both denitrification and nitrate‐N decreased while ammonium‐N concentrations substantially increased, indicating suppression of ammonium consumption or dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium. These results suggest that denitrification occurs where dynamic groundwater levels result in higher rates of nitrification and mineralization, while another N process that produces ammonium‐N competes with denitrification for limited nitrate‐N at deeper, more stagnant/poorly mixed depths. Ultimately, while it is unclear whether relict milldams are sources of N, limited denitrification rates indicate that they are not always effective sinks; thus, milldam removal—especially accompanied by removal of ammonium‐N rich legacy sediments—may improve riparian N buffering.

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  6. Abstract

    Milldams and their legacies have significantly influenced fluvial processes and geomorphology. However, less is known about their effects on riparian zone hydrology, biogeochemistry, and water quality. Here, we discuss the potential effects of existing and breached milldams on riparian nitrogen (N) processing through multiple competing hypotheses and observations from complementary studies. Competing hypotheses characterize riparian zone processes that remove (sink) or release (source) N. Elevated groundwater levels and reducing soil conditions upstream of milldams suggest that riparian zones above dams could be hotspots for N removal via denitrification and plant N uptake. On the other hand, dam removals and subsequent drops in stream and riparian groundwater levels result in drained, oxic soils which could increase soil nitrification and decrease riparian plant uptake due to groundwater bypassing the root zone. Whether dam removals would result in a net increase or decrease of N in riparian groundwaters is unknown and needs to be investigated. While nitrification, denitrification, and plant N uptake have typically received the most attention in riparian studies, other N cycle processes such as dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) need to be considered. We also propose a novel concept of riparian discontinuum, which highlights the hydrologic and biogeochemical discontinuities introduced in riparian zones by anthropogenic structures such as milldams. Understanding and quantifying how milldams and similar structures influence the net source or sink behavior of riparian zones is urgently needed for guiding watershed management practices and for informed decision making with regard to dam removals.

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  7. Abstract

    How milldams alter riparian hydrologic and groundwater mixing regimes is not well understood. Understanding the effects of milldams and their legacies on riparian hydrology is key to assessing riparian pollution buffering potential and for making appropriate watershed management decisions. We examined the spatiotemporal effects of milldams on groundwater gradients, flow directions, and mixing regime for two dammed sites on Chiques Creek, Pennsylvania (2.4 m tall milldam), and Christina River, Delaware (4 m tall dam), USA. Riparian groundwater levels were recorded every 30 min for multiple wells and transects. Groundwater mixing regime was characterized using 30‐min specific conductance data and selected chemical tracers measured monthly for about 2 years. Three distinct regimes were identified for riparian groundwaters—wet, dry, and storm. Riparian groundwater gradients above the dam were low but were typically from the riparian zone to the stream. These flow directions were reversed (stream to riparian) during dry periods due to riparian evapotranspiration losses and during peak stream flows. Longitudinal (parallel to the stream) riparian flow gradients and directions also varied across the hydrologic regimes. Groundwater mixing varied spatially and temporally between storms and seasons. Near‐stream groundwater was poorly flushed or mixed during storms whereas that in the adjacent swales revealed greater mixing. This differential groundwater behavior was attributed to milldam legacies that include: berm and swale topography that influenced the routing of surface waters, varying riparian legacy sediment depths and hydraulic conductivities, evapotranspiration losses from riparian vegetation, and runoff input from adjoining roads.

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  8. Abstract

    The compounding effects of anthropogenic legacies for environmental pollution are significant, but not well understood. Here, we show that centennial‐scale legacies of milldams and decadal‐scale legacies of road salt salinization interact in unexpected ways to produce hot spots of nitrogen (N) in riparian zones. Riparian groundwater and stream water concentrations upstream of two mid‐Atlantic (Pennsylvania and Delaware) milldams, 2.4 and 4 m tall, were sampled over a 2 year period. Clay and silt‐rich legacy sediments with low hydraulic conductivity, stagnant and poorly mixed hydrologic conditions, and persistent hypoxia in riparian sediments upstream of milldams produced a unique biogeochemical gradient with nitrate removal via denitrification at the upland riparian edge and ammonium‐N accumulation in near‐stream sediments and groundwaters. Riparian groundwater ammonium‐N concentrations upstream of the milldams ranged from 0.006 to 30.6 mgN L−1while soil‐bound values were 0.11–456 mg kg−1. We attribute the elevated ammonium concentrations to ammonification with suppression of nitrification and/or dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA). Sodium inputs to riparian groundwater (25–1,504 mg L−1) from road salts may further enhance DNRA and ammonium production and displace sorbed soil ammonium‐N into groundwaters. This study suggests that legacies of milldams and road salts may undercut the N buffering capacity of riparian zones and need to be considered in riparian buffer assessments, watershed management plans, and dam removal decisions. Given the widespread existence of dams and other barriers and the ubiquitous use of road salt, the potential for this synergistic N pollution is significant.

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