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Alterations to sediment nutrient deposition and transport along a six reservoir sequence


Webster, Benjamin
Waters, Matthew
Golladay, Stephen


Reservoir presence and construction has become commonplace along rivers due to the multitude of ecosystem services they provide. Many services are well recognized, including the effectiveness of sequestering both sediments and sediment-bound nutrients such as silts and phosphorus (P). Reservoirs are also capable of transforming or sequestering significant quantities of nutrients with more complex biogeochemical pathways, like nitrogen (N). Reservoir assessments, independent of inflow-outflow models, have primarily focused on a small number of systems creating a growing need to understand how reservoirs function both individually and as reservoir sequences within large rivers and their watersheds. Models have simulated the overall efficiency and drivers of reservoir nutrient deposition, but few have considered how a sequence of reservoirs alter deposition as an interdependent watershed-sediment-transport-system. In this study, we collected sediment cores from a six-reservoir sequence along a 5th – 6th order stream receiving treated waters from a large metropolitan area in the subtropical southeastern United States. Paleolimnological studies of subtropical reservoirs are underrepresented and are needed to understand the history of reservoir development. Using paleolimnological techniques and a known 30 year flux of riverine nutrient loading from waste water treatment facilities, we compared nutrient deposition to reservoir morphological qualities and primary producer community structure during the past ~50 years. Our findings suggest phosphorus deposition is associated with reservoir order downstream of the primary nutrient source, nitrogen deposition is linked to reservoir water retention time, and N:P is most strongly linked to reservoir surface area and watershed population density. Our results were strongly influenced by a large upstream and metropolitan nutrient source, common in large rivers, but under different conditions of nutrient loading (i.e. nonpoint source), reservoirs may express other nutrient depositional patterns.