Controls of Chloride Loading and Impairment at the River Network Scale in New England
Chloride contamination of rivers due to nonpoint sources is increasing throughout developed temperate regions due to road salt application in winter. We developed a river-network model of chloride loading to watersheds to estimate road salt application rates and investigated the meteorological factors that control riverine impairment by chloride at concentrations above thresholds protective of aquatic organisms. Chloride loading from road salt was simulated in the Merrimack River watershed in New Hampshire, which has gradients in development density. After calibration to a regional network of stream chloride data, the model captured the distribution of regional discharge and chloride observations with efficiencies of 93 and 75%, respectively. The estimate of road salt application is within uncertainties of inventoried estimates of road salt loading and is 122 to 214% greater than recommended targets. Model predictions of chloride showed seasonal variation in chloride concentrations despite a large groundwater storage pool. Interannual variation of mean summer chloride concentration near the outlet varied up to 18%, and the total river length exceeding impairment thresholds varied 12%. Annual snowfall, which drives road salt loading, correlated with chloride impairment only in headwater streams, whereas concentration variability at the outlet was driven primarily by dilution from clean runoff-draining undeveloped forested areas of the watershed. The role of summer meteorology complicates the protection of freshwater systems from chloride contamination.
Earth Systems Research Center
Journal of Environmental Quality
American Society of Agronomy
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
*Zuidema, S. W.M. Wollheim, M.M. Mineau, M.B. Green, R.J. Stewart. 2018. Controls of Chloride Loading and Impairment at the River Network Scale in New England. Journal of Environmental Quality. doi:10.2134/jeq2017.11.0418
© 2018. the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.