Effect of residential development on stream phosphorus dynamics in headwater suburbanizing watersheds of southern Ontario, Canada.

Research paper by Tim P TP Duval

Indexed on: 29 May '18Published on: 29 May '18Published in: Science of the Total Environment


Suburban landscapes are known to have degraded water quality relative to natural settings, including increased total phosphorus (TP) levels; however, the effect of subdivision construction activities on stream TP dynamics are less understood. This study measured TP and its constituents particulate, dissolved organic, and dissolved inorganic phosphorus (PP, DOP, and DIP, respectively) in two headwater streams of contrasting urbanization activity to examine whether the land-use conversion process itself contributed to TP concentrations and export. The nested watershed undergoing significant active residential community construction contained large areas of cleared former agricultural field and associated sediment mounds with elevated soil TP (~1000 mg kg), and twice as many stormwater management (SWM) ponds than the watershed with completed suburban communities. Daily stream sampling for six months revealed limited differences in TP between urbanized and urbanizing watersheds regardless of season or stream flow condition; however, the forms of TP varied significantly. The proportion of TP as DOP was consistently higher in the urbanizing stream relative to the urban stream, which was in line with significant decreases in DOP concentration as proportion of cleared former agricultural land decreased and density of SWM ponds increased. The DOP, and to a lesser extent DIP and PP, dynamics resulted in a 2.5× greater areal export of TP from a small watershed actively being suburbanized during the study period compared to the larger watershed with greater land urbanized 3-5 years ago. The results of this study suggest stream TP concentrations are relatively unresponsive to active versus established suburban cover, but the forms of TP can be quite different, and the period of home construction can increase phosphorus (P) delivery to and export through nearby streams. This information can aid land managers and urban planners update best management practices to mitigate the transfer of terrestrial P to the aquatic environment. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.