Monday, July 17, 2017

Over the next few weeks I am going to post 2017 nitrate data summaries for many Iowa watersheds. These summaries are an aggregation of IIHR and USGS water quality sensor data, Iowa DNR ambient monitoring data, and USGS discharge data. Most of this data is in the metric system, sorry if that isn’t your thing. A key to some of the terms and abbreviations:

Load: total mass of a pollutant transported by a stream over a defined period of time. This is shown in kilograms (kg) in the data below.

Discharge (Q): total amount of stream water traveling past a defined point. This is shown in cubic meters per day (m3/day) and millimeters (mm) below. I calculate discharge in mm by dividing the total water volume by the watershed area. This is a convenient way to look at discharge because you can compare it with precipitation in the same units. We also call this method of looking at discharge water yield.

Precipitation (P): average of all the Iowa State Mesonet weather stations in the watershed. I report this in mm.

Q/P: discharge to precipitation ratio. This oftentimes is an important driver for water quality.

Concentration: mass of a pollutant per unit volume of water. I report this as milligrams per liter (mg/L) which is the same as parts per million. My monthly average concentrations are derived from daily averages. For the sensor data, there are 288 measurements per day.

Flow weighted average (FWA) concentration. This is the total load divided by the total discharge. So this is not a daily or monthly average per se, but imagine if we were able to collect in a container all the river water over a defined time period (month or year) and then measure the nitrate concentration in that huge sample. That is FWA. For nitrate, this is oftentimes higher than the regular average over the course of a year.

N yield: this is the load of nitrate per unit area. I deviate from the metric system here and report this value in pounds per acre in the graphs.

Finally, I am reporting this data for the 2017 Water Year, which ran from Oct 1, 2016 to Sep 30, 2017. This is a common way that scientists look at stream data.

The Turkey River drains Iowa’s Paleozoic Plateau, flowing 153 miles from Howard County to its confluence with the Mississippi River south of Guttenberg.

Map of the Turkey River
The Turkey watershed drains 989,000 acres in Iowa’s Paleozoic Plateau.

The Paleozoic Plateau is Iowa’s “Driftless Area” which was left unglaciated throughout much of Iowa’s geological history.

Monitoring data presented here is from the USGS nitrate sensor at Garber, Iowa.

The Turkey supports a diverse fishery with some spots clear and cold enough to support trout.

The Turkey has experienced several large floods in recent years, and it has been a target watershed for IIHR and the Iowa Flood Center through its HUD and Iowa Watershed Approach projects.

Like other NE Iowa streams such as the Maquoketa and the Wapsi, Turkey is usually relatively clear but transports substantial nitrogen. It’s 2017 nitrate yield of 39 lbs/acre was one of the highest measured in Iowa in 2017. Another feature of the Turkey watershed is the ratio between discharge and precipitation. More than half the rain that fell in the Turkey watershed in 2017 exited the watershed at the outlet–this is quite large and is likely an important driver of the large nitrate loading.

Four graphs and a spreadsheet describing the Turkey River in 2017
2017 Water Quality and Quantity Data for the Turkey River