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Water Quality Trends Near Oklahoma City
Released: 10/6/2011 7:53:40 PM

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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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Concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus and some pesticides have increased from 1999-2009 in parts of the North Canadian River watershed, downstream of Oklahoma City, Okla., according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients essential for plant growth, but in high concentrations they can negatively impact aquatic ecosystems and human health.

Scientists sampled water quality and streamflow on the North Canadian River at USGS streamgage stations in Harrah, Okla. and downstream at Britton Road in Oklahoma City, Okla. The study also examined land-cover changes, and results show increasing urban land use and development in the basin between Lake Overholser and Harrah, Okla. 

“An increasing population makes understanding water quality trends even more important,” said Kim Winton, USGS Oklahoma Water Science Center Director. “Decision makers can use this information to help make informed choices about water resources management. 

Changes in water quality may have been caused by changes in point-source wastewater discharges, urban development, population growth, streamflow, and/or agricultural activities. The full USGS report, done in cooperation with the City of Oklahoma City, can be found online.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that increase growth of aquatic plants and algae, which then decay and consume dissolved oxygen, causing areas with low oxygen. The resulting lack of oxygen can cause stress or death of fish and other aquatic animals. From 1999-2009, there was a significant decrease of dissolved oxygen concentrations in water collected at the Harrah station, along with an increase in dissolved phosphorus. Both Harrah and Britton Road samples showed an upward trend in dissolved nitrogen. From 1988-2009, nutrient levels decreased in water samples collected at the Britton Road station, but levels were much greater at the downstream Harrah station.

The pesticides 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and bromacil were found to increase over the study period. Some pesticide concentrations decreased over time, including; atrazine, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, dichlorprop, and lindane. Concentrations of dieldrin, heptochlor epoxide, and simazine remained the same.

Streamflow in the study area has decreased, especially after 1999. This may be due to a decline in precipitation between 1999 and 2009, or the construction of low-water dams on the river upstream from Oklahoma City in 1999.

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