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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-435
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-435
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 20 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 20 Sep 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Declining suspended sediment in United States rivers and streams: Linking sediment trends to changes in land use/cover, hydrology and climate

Jennifer C. Murphy Jennifer C. Murphy
  • U.S. Geological Survey, Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Abstract. Between 1992 and 2012, concentrations of annual mean suspended sediment decreased at over half (58 %) of the 137 stream sites assessed across the contiguous United States (US). Increases occurred at 17 % of the sites and the direction of change was uncertain at the remaining 25 %. Sediment trends were characterized using the Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season model, and decreases in sediment ranged from −95 % to −8.5 % of the 1992 concentration. To explore potential drivers of these changes, the sediment trends were (1) parsed into two broad contributors of change, changes in land management versus changes in the streamflow regime, and (2) grouped by land use of the watershed and correlated to concurrent changes in land use/cover, hydrology and climate and static/long-term watershed characteristics. At 83 % of the sites, changes in land management (captured by changes in the concentration–streamflow relationship over time) contributed more to the change in the sediment trend than changes in the streamflow regime alone (i.e. any systematic change in the magnitude, frequency or timing of flows). However, at > 60 % of the sites, changes in the streamflow regime contributed at least a 5 % change in sediment and at 10 sites changes in the streamflow regime contributed over half the change in sediment, indicating that at many sites changes in streamflow were not the main driver of changes in sediment but was often an important supporting factor. Correlations between sediment trends and concurrent changes in land use/cover, hydrology and climate were often stronger at sites draining watersheds with more homogenous, human-related land uses (i.e. agricultural and urban lands) compared to mixed-use or undeveloped lands. At many sites, decreases in sediment occurred despite small to moderate increases in the amount of urban or agricultural land in the watershed, suggesting conservation efforts to reduce sediment runoff to streams may be successful, up to a point, even as lands are converted to urban and agricultural uses.

Jennifer C. Murphy
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Status: open (until 15 Nov 2019)
Status: open (until 15 Nov 2019)
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Jennifer C. Murphy
Data sets

Water-quality and streamflow datasets used in the Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season (WRTDS) models to determine trends in the Nation’s rivers and streams, 1972-2012 L. A. De Cicco, L. A. Sprague, J. C. Murphy, M. L. Riskin, J. A. Falcone, E. G. Stets, G. P. Oelsner, and H. M.Johnson https://doi.org/10.5066/F7KW5D4H

Water-quality trends and trend component estimates for the Nation's rivers and streams using Weighted Regressions on Time, Discharge, and Season (WRTDS) models and generalized flow normalization, 1972-2012 J. C. Murphy, W. H. Farmer, L. A. Sprague, L. A. De Cicco, R. M. and Hirsch https://doi.org/10.5066/F7TQ5ZS3

Daily streamflow datasets used to analyze trends in streamflow at sites also analyzed for trends in water quality and ecological condition in the Nation's rivers and streams W. H. Farmer, J. C. Murphy, M. L. Riskin, K. R., Ryberg, and R. E. Zuellig https://doi.org/10.5066/F7D798JN

Watershed characteristics for study sites of the Surface Water Trends project, National Water Quality Program J. A. Falcone https://doi.org/10.5066/F7TX3CKP

Jennifer C. Murphy
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Short summary
Suspended sediment concentrations decreased at 58 % of the 137 stream sites assessed across the contiguous United States (US) between 1992–2012. Increases occurred at 17 % of the sites and the direction of change was uncertain at the remaining 25 %. Decreases occurred despite increases in some land uses associated with increased surface disturbance (i.e. urban or agriculture). Changes in streamflow were an influential part of these sediment decreases, but rarely were the dominant driver of change.
Suspended sediment concentrations decreased at 58 % of the 137 stream sites assessed across the...
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