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Colorado Water Science Center


National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program
South Platte River Basin Study

by Matthew Pocernich 1 and David W. Litke 2


Accurate data about nutrient concentrations in wastewater-treatment-plant effluents are needed for river basin water-quality studies. As part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program in the South Platte River Basin, nutrient data were requested from 31 wastewater-treatment plants located in the basin. This article describes the types of nutrient data available from the plants, examines the variability of effluent nutrient concentrations, and discusses methods for estimation of nutrient concentrations where data are lacking.

Ammonia was monitored at 88 percent of the plants, nitrite plus nitrate was monitored at 40 percent of the plants, and organic nitrogen and phosphorus data were monitored at less than 25 percent of the plants, and organic nitrogen and phosphorous were monitored at less than 25 percent of the plants. Median total nitrogen concentrations and median total phosphorus concentrations were small compared to typical literature estimates for wastewater-treatment plants with secondary treatment. Nutrient concentrations in effluent from wastewater-treatment plants varied widely between and within plants. For example, ammonia concentrations varied as much as 5 mg/L during a day, as much as 10 mg/L from day to day, and as much as 30 mg/L from summer to winter within a plant. In the South Platte River Basin, estimates of median annual ammonia and nitrite plus nitrate concentrations can be improved based on plant processes; and nitrite plus nitrate and organic nitrogen concentrations can be estimated based on ammonia concentrations. However, to avoid large estimation errors, more complete nutrient data from wastewater-treatment plants are needed for integration into river basin water-quality studies. The paucity of data hinders attempts to evaluate the relative importance of point source and nonpoint source nutrient loadings to rivers.

1 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
2 U.S. Geological Survey, Box 25046, MS 415, Denver Federal Center, Lakewood, CO 80225

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