, Volume 120, Issue 1-3, pp 269-300
Date: 02 Jun 2006

Comparative Water Quality of Lightly- and Moderately-Impacted Streams in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

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For less-developed regions like the Blue Ridge Mountains, data are limited that link basin-scale land use with stream quality. Two pairs of lightly-impacted (90–100% forested) and moderately-impacted (70–80% forested) sub-basins of the upper Little Tennessee River basin in the southern Blue Ridge were identified for comparison. The pairs contain physically similar stream reaches, chosen for the purpose of isolating forest conversion as a potential driver of any detected differences in water quality. Streams were sampled during baseflow conditions twice monthly over a six-month period from September 2003 through February 2004. Parametric t-tests were run for each parameter measured between the lightly-and moderately-impacted streams within each pair. Statistically significantly higher mean values of suspended and dissolved solids, nitrate, specific conductivity, turbidity, and temperature were observed in the moderately impacted streams versus the lightly impacted streams in both pairs, while dissolved oxygen levels were lower in the moderately-impacted streams. No significant differences were demonstrated in orthophosphate or ammonium concentration. A near-bankfull runoff event on February 6, 2004, was sampled for stormflow values, and the results support baseflow findings. The water quality of these streams is very good when compared with lower relief areas like the Piedmont, and none of the parameters measured in this study exceeds levels of known threat to stream biota. However, the demonstration that moderate reductions in forest cover are associated with stream water quality degradation carries important implications for stream management in this rapidly developing mountainous region.