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Trends in nutrient and sediment retention in Great Plains reservoirs (USA)

Abstract

Reservoirs are artificial ecosystems with physical, chemical, and biological transitional characteristics between rivers and lakes. Greater water retention time in reservoirs provides conditions for cycling materials inputs from upstream waters through sedimentation, biological assimilation and other biogeochemical processes. We investigated the effects of reservoirs on the water quantity and quality in the Great Plains (Kansas, USA), an area where little is known about these dominant hydrologic features. We analyzed a 30-year time-series of discharge, total phosphorus (TP), nitrate (NO3 ), and total suspended solids (TSS) from six reservoirs and estimated overall removal efficiencies from upstream to downstream, testing correlations among retention, discharge, and time. In general, mean removal of TP (42–74 %), TSS (0–93 %), and NO3 (11–56 %) from upstream to downstream did not change over 30 years. TP retention was associated with TSS removal, suggesting that nutrient substantial portion of P was adsorbed to solids. Our results indicated that reservoirs had the effect of lowering variance in the water quality parameters and that these reservoirs are not getting more or less nutrient-rich over time. We found no evidence of temporal changes in the yearly mean upstream and downstream discharges. The ratio upstream/downstream discharge was analyzed because it allowed us to assess how much contribution of additional unsampled tributaries may have biased our ability to calculate retention. Nutrient and sediment removal was less affected by hydraulic residence time than expected. Our study demonstrates that reservoirs can play a role in the removal and processing of nutrient and sediments, which has repercussions when valuing their ecological services and designing watershed management plans.

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Acknowledgments

The authors express their gratitude to FAPESP (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo) for the doctoral scholarship to the first author (Process 2009/50842-2) and the financial support to the second author (Process 2008/55636-9). Joanna B. Whittier has kindly provided a map of the studied reservoirs in Kansas State (USA). This is publication # 14-081-J from the Kansas Agricultural Experiment station.

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Correspondence to Davi Gasparini Fernandes Cunha.

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Cunha, D.G.F., do Carmo Calijuri, M. & Dodds, W.K. Trends in nutrient and sediment retention in Great Plains reservoirs (USA). Environ Monit Assess 186, 1143–1155 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-013-3445-3

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