Monitoring stream sediment loads in response to agriculture in Prince Edward Island, Canada

  • Ashley Alberto
  • Andre St-Hilaire
  • Simon C. Courtenay
  • Michael R. van den Heuvel


Increased agricultural land use leads to accelerated erosion and deposition of fine sediment in surface water. Monitoring of suspended sediment yields has proven challenging due to the spatial and temporal variability of sediment loading. Reliable sediment yield calculations depend on accurate monitoring of these highly episodic sediment loading events. This study aims to quantify precipitation-induced loading of suspended sediments on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Turbidity is considered to be a reasonably accurate proxy for suspended sediment data. In this study, turbidity was used to monitor suspended sediment concentration (SSC) and was measured for 2 years (December 2012–2014) in three subwatersheds with varying degrees of agricultural land use ranging from 10 to 69 %. Comparison of three turbidity meter calibration methods, two using suspended streambed sediment and one using automated sampling during rainfall events, revealed that the use of SSC samples constructed from streambed sediment was not an accurate replacement for water column sampling during rainfall events for calibration. Different particle size distributions in the three rivers produced significant impacts on the calibration methods demonstrating the need for river-specific calibration. Rainfall-induced sediment loading was significantly greater in the most agriculturally impacted site only when the load per rainfall event was corrected for runoff volume (total flow minus baseflow), flow increase intensity (the slope between the start of a runoff event and the peak of the hydrograph), and season. Monitoring turbidity, in combination with sediment modeling, may offer the best option for management purposes.


Sediment Turbidity Agriculture Particle size Streamflow 



This study was funded by the Canadian Water Network through its Canadian Watershed Research Consortium program, the PEI Department of Environment and Energy, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and through a Canada Research Chair to MRV. The authors wish to thank Christina Pater, Scott Roloson, Kyle Knysh, Gillian MacDonald, Hailey Lambe, Laura Phalen, Jesse Hitchcock, Mike Coffin, Travis James, Liane Leclair, James Dwyer, and Sean Landsman for their assistance in the study.


  1. Cairns, D. (2002). Effects of land-use practices on fish, shellfish, and their habitats on Prince Edward Island. Canadian Technical Report on Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences No. 2408.Google Scholar
  2. Cairns, D, & R. MacFarlane (2015). The status of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) on Prince Edward Island (SFA 17) in 2013. Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) Research Document 2015/019Google Scholar
  3. Cox, C. A., Sarangi, A., & Madramootoo, C. A. (2006). Effect of land management on runoff and soil losses from two small watersheds in St Lucia. Land Degradation and Development, 17, 55–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Curry, R. A., & MacNeill, W. S. (2004). Population-level responses to sediment during early life in brook trout. Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 23, 140–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Davies-Colley, R. J., & Smith, D. G. (2001). Turbidity suspended sediment, and water clarity: a review. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 37, 1085–1101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davies-Colley, R. J., Ballantine, D. J., Elliott, S. H., Swales, A., Hughes, A. O., & Gall, M. P. (2014). Light attenuation—a more effective basis for the management of fine suspended sediment than mass concentration? Water Science and Technology, 69, 1867–1874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Defersha, M. B., & Melesse, A. M. (2012). Effect of rainfall intensity, slope and antecedent moisture content on sediment concentration and sediment enrichment ratio. Catena, 90, 47–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gippel, C. J. (1995). Potential of turbidity monitoring for measuring the transport of suspended solids in streams. Hydrological Processes, 9, 83–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Grismer, M. E. (2013). Stream sediment and nutrient loads in the Tahoe Basin—estimated vs monitored loads for TMDL “crediting”. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 185, 7883–7894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hughes, A. O., Quinn, J. M., & McKergow, L. A. (2012). Land use influences on suspended sediment yields and event sediment dynamics within two headwater catchments, Waikato, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 46, 315–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jiang, Y., & Somers, G. (2009). Modeling effects of nitrate from non-point sources on groundwater quality in an agricultural watershed in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Hydrobiological Journal, 17, 707–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jones, A. S., Stevens, D. K., Horsburgh, J. S., & Mesner, N. O. (2011). Surrogate measures for providing high frequency estimates of total suspended solids and total phosphorus concentrations. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 47, 239–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kwadd, F. J. P. M. (1991). Summer and winter regimes of runoff generation (the Netherlands). Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 16, 653–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lamba, J., Thompson, A. M., Karthikeyan, K. G., & Fitzpatrick, F. A. (2015). Sources of fine sediment stored in agricultural lowland streams, Midwest, USA. Geomorphology, 236, 44–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Landers, M. N., & Sturm, T. W. (2013). Hysteresis in suspended sediment to turbidity relations due to changing particle size distributions. Water Resources Research, 49, 5487–5500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lewis, J. (1996). Turbidity-controlled suspended sediment sampling for runoff-event load estimation. Water Resources Research, 32, 2299–2310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Liu, J. T., Hung, J.-J., & Huang, Y.-W. (2009). Partition of suspended and riverbed sediments related to the salt-wedge in the lower reaches of a small mountainous river. Marine Geology, 264, 152–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lyne, V, Hollick, M (1973). Stochastic time variable rainfall-runoff modelling. I. E. Aust. Natl. Conf. Publ. 79/10, 89–93, Inst. Of Eng., Aust., Canberra.Google Scholar
  19. Lyne, V., & Hollick, M. (1979). Stochastic time variable rainfall-runoff modelling. In: Hydrology and Water Resources Symposium, Perth, Australia, September 10–12, 1979, Proceedings: Perth, Australia, National Committee on Hydrology and Water Resources of the Institution of Engineers, no. 79/10, 89–93. Available from Accessed 01 Sept 2015.
  20. Marttila, H., & Kløve, B. (2012). Use of turbidity measurements to estimate suspended solids and nutrient loads from peatland forestry drainage. Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering, 138, 1088–1096.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Minella, J. P. G., Merten, G. H., Reichert, M., & Clarke, R. T. (2008). Estimating suspended sediment concentrations from turbidity measurements and the calibration problem. Hydrological Processes, 22, 1819–1830.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Montgomery, D. R. (2007). Soil erosion and agricultural sustainability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 13268–13272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pavanelli, D., & Bigi, A. (2005). Indirect methods to estimate suspended sediment concentration: reliability and relationship of turbidity and settleable solids. Biosystems Engineering, 9(1), 75–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pavey, B. A., St-Hilaire, A., Courtenay, S. C., Ouarda, T., Bobée, B. (2007). Comparative study of suspended sediment concentrations downstream of harvested peat bogs. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 135, 369–382.Google Scholar
  25. PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry (2003). Nature of PEI soils. Web. 01 Sept. 2015. <>
  26. PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry (2015). Agriculture on Prince Edward Island. Web. 01 Sept. 2015. <>
  27. PEI Department of Environment, Energy & Forestry: Forests, Fish & Wildlife (2002). 1973 Surficial Geology.Google Scholar
  28. PEI Department of Environment, Energy & Forestry: Resource Inventory (2010). Corporate Land Use Inventory 2010.Google Scholar
  29. Quinn, J. M., & Stroud, M. J. (2002). Water quality and sediment and nutrient export from New Zealand hill-land catchments of contrasting land use. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 36, 409–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ruzycki, E. M., Axler, R. P., Host, G. E., Henneck, J. R., & Will, N. R. (2014). Estimating sediment and nutrient loads in four western Lake superior streams. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 1442, 1139–1154.Google Scholar
  31. Seeger, M., Errea, M.-P., Beguería, S., Arnáez, J., Martí, C., & García-Ruiz, J. (2004). Catchment soil moisture and rainfall characteristics as determinant factors for discharge/suspended sediment hysteretic loops in a small headwater catchment in the Spanish pyrenees. Journal of Hydrology, 288, 299–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sherriff, S. C., Rowan, J. S., Melland, A. R., Jordan, P., Fenton, O., & Ó hUallacháin, D. (2015). Investigating suspended sediment dynamics in contrasting agricultural catchments using ex situ turbidity-based suspended sediment monitoring. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 19, 3349–3363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Statistics Canada. (2015). Tables 001–0014 - Area, production and farm value of potatoes, annual, CANSIM (database). 01 Sept. 2015.Google Scholar
  34. Steegen, A., Govers, G., Nachtergaele, J., Takken, I., Beuselinck, L., & Poesen, J. (2000). Sediment export by water from an agricultural catchment in the Loam Belt of Central Belgium. Geomorphology, 33, 25–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Teixeira, E.C., & Caliari, P.C. (2005). Estimation of the concentration of suspended solids in rivers from turbidity measurement: error assessment. IAHS-AISH Publication, pp. 151–160.Google Scholar
  36. van der Poll, H.W. (1983). Geology of Prince Edward Island. Department of Forestry and Forestry Energy and Minerals Branch. Province of Prince Edward Island. Report 83–1. 66 pp.Google Scholar
  37. Walling, D. E. (1977). Assessing the accuracy of suspended sediment rating curves for a small basin. Water Resources Research, 13, 531–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Walling, D. E., & Fang, D. (2003). Recent trends in the suspended sediment loads of the world’s rivers. Global and Planetary Change, 39, 111–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Waters, T.F. (1995). Sediment in streams: sources, biological effects, and control. American Fisheries Society Monograph 7.Google Scholar
  40. World Metorological Organization (2003). Manual on sediment management and measurement. Geneva, Switzerland: World Meteorological Organization.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashley Alberto
    • 1
  • Andre St-Hilaire
    • 2
  • Simon C. Courtenay
    • 3
  • Michael R. van den Heuvel
    • 1
  1. 1.Canadian Rivers Institute, Department of BiologyUniversity of Prince Edward IslandCharlottetownCanada
  2. 2.Canadian Rivers Institute, INRS-ETEUniversity of QuebecQuebecCanada
  3. 3.Canadian Rivers Institute, Canadian Water Network, School of Environment, Resources and SustainabilityUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

Personalised recommendations