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Nitrate and sediment fluxes from a California rangeland watershed

  • Author(s): Lewis, D J
  • Singer, Michael J
  • Dahlgren, R A
  • Tate, K W
  • et al.

Long-term water quality records for assessing natural variability, impact of management, and that guide regulatory processes to safeguard water resources are rare for California oak woodland rangelands. This study presents a 20-yr record (1981-2000) of nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) and suspended sediment export from a typical, grazed oak woodland watershed (103 ha) in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills of California. Mean annual precipitation over the 20-yr period was 734 mm yr(-1) (range 366-1205 mm yr(-1)). Mean annual stream flow was 353 mm y(-1) (range 87-848 mm yr(-1)). Average annual stream flow was 48.1 +/- 16% of precipitation. Mean annual NO3-N export was 1.6 kg ha(-1) yr(-1) (range 0.18-3.6 kg ha(-1) yr(-1)). Annual NO3-N export significantly (P < 0.05) increased with increasing annual stream flow and precipitation. Mean daily NO3-N export was 0.004 kg ha(-1) d(-1) (range 10(-5) to 0.55 kg ha(-1) d(-1)). Mean annual suspended sediment export was 198 kg ha(-1) yr(-1) (range 23-479 kg ha(-1) yr(-1)). There was a positive relationship (P < 0.05) between annual suspended sediment export, annual stream How and precipitation. Mean daily suspended sediment export was 0.54 kg ha(-1) d(-1) (range 10(-4) to 155 kg ha(-1) d(-1)). Virtually no sediment was exported during the dry season. The large variation in daily and annual fluxes highlights the necessity of using long-term records to establish quantitative water quality targets for rangelands and demonstrates the difficulty of designing a water quality monitoring program for these ecosystems.

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