, Volume 37, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 111-127
Date: 23 Aug 2013

Multi-decade Responses of a Tidal Creek System to Nutrient Load Reductions: Mattawoman Creek, Maryland USA


We developed a synthesis using diverse monitoring and modeling data for Mattawoman Creek, Maryland, USA to examine responses of this tidal freshwater tributary of the Potomac River estuary to a sharp reduction in point-source nutrient loading rate. Oligotrophication of these systems is not well understood; questions concerning recovery pathways, threshold responses, and lag times remain to be clarified and eventually generalized for application to other systems. Prior to load reductions Mattawoman Creek was eutrophic with poor water clarity (Secchi depth <0.5 m), no submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), and large algal stocks (50–100 μg L−1 chlorophyll-a). A substantial modification to a wastewater treatment plant reduced annual average nitrogen (N) loads from 30 to 12 g N m−2 year−1 and phosphorus (P) loads from 3.7 to 1.6 g P m−2 year−1. Load reductions for both N and P were initiated in 1991 and completed by 1995. There was no trend in diffuse N and P loads between 1985 and 2010. Following nutrient load reduction, NO2 + NO3 and chlorophyll-a decreased and Secchi depth and SAV coverage and density increased with initial response lag times of one, four, three, one, and one year, respectively. A preliminary N budget was developed and indicated the following: diffuse sources currently dominate N inputs, estimates of long-term burial and denitrification were not large enough to balance the budget, sediment recycling of NH4 was the single largest term in the budget, SAV uptake of N from sediments and water provided a modest seasonal-scale N sink, and the creek system acted as an N sink for imported Potomac River nitrogen. Finally, using a comparative approach utilizing data from other shallow, low-salinity Chesapeake Bay ecosystems, strong relationships were found between N loading and algal biomass and between algal biomass and water clarity, two key water quality variables used as indices of restoration in Chesapeake Bay.

Communicated by Wayne S. Gardner