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Spatial and Temporal Patterns in the Influence of Land Use on Water Quality in Five Portland Area Creeks Representing Differing Levels of Urbanization

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  • While the negative effects of urban development on freshwater systems are well documented, impacts of human disturbance on water quality vary depending on land cover, local climate, and temporal and spatial scales of analysis. To better understand this variation, we analyzed water quality data for a total of 15 sites from six Portland, Oregon area creeks at multiple spatial and temporal scales. The creeks are characterized by differing levels of urban development, from relatively pristine to highly developed. More than ten years of monthly data gathered by the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services were used to analyze temporal trends, and five years of these data were used to analyze spatial patterns. Analytes of interest were specific conductivity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphorus, total suspended solids, and temperature. These variables were compared to contributing area land use metrics at three scales: full contributing sub-basin, 100-meter riparian corridor, and 50-meter riparian corridor. We calculated seven land use metrics: population density, street density, Green Streets density, percent low density development, percent high density development, percent forested area, and percent agriculture. We found Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient between the water quality parameters for annual, wet, and dry seasons and the land use metrics at each spatial scale for each parameter. The same water quality data were also analyzed for correlations to same day as well as 3-, 5-, and 7-day antecedent precipitation to examine relationships between water quality and environmental moisture conditions. Additionally, we used a Seasonal Kendall test to search for temporal trends. For each site included in the temporal analysis, changes in population density and street density metrics from 2000 to 2010 were compared to changes in water quality. Results vary across space, but generally confirm that urban development has negatively impacted the creeks. Specific conductivity, total suspended solids and nitrate are particularly sensitive to the level of urban development, especially following rain events. This work will help to better understand and mitigate urbanization impacts on freshwater systems.
  • Presented at The Oregon Water Conference, May 24-25, 2011, Corvallis, OR.
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