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Stream Phosphorus Transport in the Lake Tahoe Basin, 1989–1996


Lake Tahoe is undergoing the initial stages of culturaleutrophication due to human alteration of the airshed andwatershed. The lake's switch from nitrogen (N) to phosphorus (P)limitation has been attributed primarily to atmospheric Nloading. This places an increased importance on controllingwatershed movement of P to the lake. A stream water qualitymonitoring data set consisting of nine streams in the Lake Tahoebasin has been analyzed to characterize the spatiotemporalvariation of P delivery to the lake. This data is from the LakeTahoe Interagency Monitoring Program (LTIMP), which providesscientific data for planning and regulatory agencies to addressenvironmental problems in the Lake Tahoe basin. Results indicatethat P delivery (concentrations, loads) varies greatly atinterannual, seasonal, and spatial scales. Annual and seasonaltotal P (TP) concentrations can vary up to three orders ofmagnitude in a given stream and are strongly associated withsuspended sediment. Particulate P is the major form of Ptransported by Tahoe streams and was strongly correlated withpercent surficial geologic deposits, which are primarily locatednear streams. Tahoe streams with the highest annualP concentrations often had the lowest annual P loads, and visaversa. P loading is greatest during the spring snowmelt (75% ofannual average). Potential watershed parameters influencing Pdelivery to Lake Tahoe have been identified as precipitation,basin area, basin steepness, and road and human developmentcoverage. Results also suggest that human development impacts onstream P loads are most prevalent during high precipitationyears. Identification and quantification of stream sediment andP sources such as streambanks and impervious surface isnecessary to aid in watershed restoration efforts.

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Correspondence to Lorin K. Hatch.

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Hatch, L.K., Reuter, J.E. & Goldman, C.R. Stream Phosphorus Transport in the Lake Tahoe Basin, 1989–1996. Environ Monit Assess 69, 63–83 (2001).

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  • Lake Tahoe
  • phosphorus
  • streams
  • water quality
  • watershed characteristics