The Nonpoint Sources and Transport of Baseflow Nitrogen Loading Across a Developed Rural-Urban Gradient

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Nonpoint source urban nutrient loading into streams and receiving water bodies is widely recognized as a major environmental management challenge. A dominant research and management paradigm assumes that loading primarily derives from elevated stormwater. However, baseflow can account for a large portion of total loading, especially for low development intensity watersheds which comprise the largest urban areas. We investigated the sources and drivers of nonpoint source baseflow nitrogen loading across 27 headwater catchments in the urbanized Piedmont region of North Carolina, USA. Nitrate isotopes, predictors of concentration-discharge (CQ) slopes, and predictors of mean annual total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) loading suggest that wastewater was a major baseflow nonpoint source of nitrogen across developed catchments likely contributing 61% of nitrate loading from septic served catchments and 49% from sewer served catchments. Our findings suggest that subsurface TDN was abundant, loading was largely transport limited, and the hydrogeomorphic position of sanitary infrastructure strongly influences transport. We developed an empirical model showing catchment loading increased with the topographic wetness index of sanitary sewer location, convergent sloping land area, parcel density, and residual agricultural landcover (R2 = 0.78). We extended this model to the study region's 1,436 developed small (0.3–20.8 sq km) catchments. We estimated up to 92.7% of nonpoint source baseflow TDN loading comes from low and medium development intensity catchments, and sanitary infrastructure in wet areas of the landscape accounts for 39% of regional baseflow loading. Our research indicates that managing baseflow loading will require addressing lower development intensity catchments and sanitary infrastructure.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Delesantro, JM; Duncan, JM; Riveros-Iregui, D; Blaszczak, JR; Bernhardt, ES; Urban, DL; Band, LE

Published Date

  • July 1, 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 58 / 7

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1944-7973

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0043-1397

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1029/2021WR031533

Citation Source

  • Scopus