Water-quality data from 23 surfacewater-quality monitoring sites operated by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and streamflow data from 11 U.S. Geological Survey streamflow-gaging stations in the White River Basin were analyzed to determine recent (1981 90 water years) water-quality conditions, trends, and river loads for ammonia, nitrate, total nitrogen, and total phosphorus. The White River Basin drains 11,349 square miles of central and south-central Indiana and is divided into two nearly equal subbasins the East Fork White River and the White River upstream from its confluence with the East Fork (called the "west fork" of the White River by the State's water-management agencies).
Nutrient concentrations generally were higher in the more urbanized west fork than in the more rural east fork because of the much larger volumes of treated municipal sewage, combined-sewer overflows, and urban runoff discharged to the west fork. Concentrations of nutrients, especially ammonia and total phosphorus, were higher downstream from Muncie, Anderson, and Indianapolis than they were upstream from these cities. Nutrient concentrations decreased downstream from Indianapolis in the White River and in the downstream reach of the East Fork White River because of dilution, nitrification, adsorption to stream-bottom sediments, and uptake by aquatic vegetation.
Seasonal variations in nutrient concentrations and the relations of nutrient concentrations to streamflow depended on the relative contributions of point and nonpoint sources of the nutrients. Total phosphorus increased with increasing streamflow at monitoring sites on the east fork but decreased with increasing streamflow at sites on the west fork. Increasing concentrations of phosphorus with increasing streamflow were consistent with nonpoint sources of phosphorus that wash off land surfaces, whereas decreasing concentrations of phosphorus with increasing streamflow were consistent with dilution of point sources of phosphorus. Median concentrations of total phosphorus were highest during summer and fall downstream from urban areas on the White River because streamflows that dilute point sources of phosphorus are lowest during summer and fall. Median concentrations of ammonia in the White River were highest in winter because of reduced biological uptake and nitrification of ammonia during cold temperatures.
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