Date of Award:

2013

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Watershed Sciences

Advisor/Chair:

Michelle A Baker

Abstract

Sewage, agricultural runoff, and atmospheric deposition have greatly increased the amount of nutrients (largely nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)) in surface water nationwide. Excess nutrients are associated with algal blooms and dissolved oxygen depletion in many water bodies, but linkages between nutrients and dissolved oxygen have been largely correlative. Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) is a regulated water quality parameter that is aimed at describing the amount of oxygen consumed during the decomposition of organic matter. Despite the awareness that excess nutrients are linked to dissolved oxygen in rivers, few studies in the nutrient criteria literature discuss BOD measurements or how nutrients may impact BOD. Accordingly, I used factorial experiments to test the effect of inorganic nutrients (as N, P and N+P) and dissolved organic carbon on BOD measurements in Utah streams. The study was carried out from January through summer baseflow in 2011, allowing me to evaluate the effects of spatial and temporal variation of ambient nutrient concentration on oxygen demand. The study design included measurements in streams above and below nutrient point-sources (publicly owned treatment works) and several reference sites. I used classification and regression trees to identify thresholds of TN and TP that separate BOD response to nutrients into statistically distinct groups. My results show that seasonal variation affected BOD levels. As temperatures rose and water levels increased during peak runoff, I observed the highest BOD response to nutrient additions. I also found a significant correlation between BOD and ambient nutrient concentrations during that time period. I identified potential nutrient-related thresholds that could be used to assign numeric criteria that would protect designated uses. The threshold values I found for TN and TP were 0.56 mg/L and 0.09 mg/L, respectively. My results suggest that BOD may be sensitive to nutrient inputs and my experimental approach could be used as one line of evidence to support nutrient criteria related to aquatic life uses.

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