Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Streams of the Great Miami River Basin, Ohio, 1998-2000

By  David C. Reutter

Water-Resources Investigations Report 02-4297

National Water-Quality Assessment Program


Sources and loads of nitrogen and phosphorus in streams of the Great Miami River Basin were evaluated as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment program. Water samples were collected by the U.S. Geological Survey from October 1998 through September 2000 (water years 1999 and 2000) at five locations in Ohio on a routine schedule and additionally during selected high streamflows. Stillwater River near Union, Great Miami River near Vandalia, and Mad River near Eagle City were selected to represent predominantly agricultural areas upstream from the Dayton metropolitan area. Holes Creek near Kettering is in the Dayton metropolitan area and was selected to represent an urban area in the Great Miami River Basin. Great Miami River at Hamilton is downstream from the Dayton and Hamilton-Middletown metropolitan areas and was selected to represent mixed agricultural and urban land uses of the Great Miami River Basin.

Inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus to streams from point and nonpoint sources were estimated for the three agricultural basins and for the Great Miami River Basin as a whole. Nutrient inputs from point sources were computed from the facilities that discharge one-half million gallons or more per day into streams of the Great Miami River Basin. Nonpoint-source inputs estimated in this report are atmospheric deposition and commercial-fertilizer and manure applications.

Loads of ammonia, nitrate, total nitrogen, orthophosphate, and total phosphorus from the five sites were computed with the ESTIMATOR program. The computations show nitrate to be the primary component of instream nitrogen loads, and particulate phosphorus to be the primary component of instream phosphorus loads.

The Mad River contributed the smallest loads of total nitrogen and total phosphorus to the study area upstream from Dayton, whereas the Upper Great Miami River (upstream from Vandalia) contributed the largest loads of total nitrogen and total phosphorus to the Great Miami River Basin upstream from Dayton. An evaluation of monthly mean loads shows that nutrient loads were highest during winter 1999 and lowest during the drought of summer and autumn 1999. During the 1999 drought, point sources were the primary contributors of nitrogen and phosphorus loads to most of the study area. Nonpoint sources, however, were the primary contributors of nitrogen and phosphorus loads during months of high streamflow. Nonpoint sources were also the primary contributors of nitrogen loads to the Mad River during the 1999 drought, owing to unusually large amounts of ground-water discharge to the stream.

The Stillwater River Basin had the highest nutrient yields in the study area during months of high streamflow; however, the Mad River Basin had the highest yields of all nutrients except ammonia during the months of the 1999 drought. The high wet-weather yields in the Stillwater River Basin were caused by agricultural runoff, whereas high yields in the Mad River Basin during drought resulted from the large, sustained contribution of ground water to streamflow throughout the year.

In the basins upstream from Dayton, an estimated 19 to 25 percent of the nonpoint source of nitrogen and 4 to 5 percent of the nonpoint  source of phosphorus that was deposited or applied to the land was transported into streams. 

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