Surface Water Quality and Landscape Gradients in the North Carolina Cape Fear River Basin: The Key Role of Fecal Coliform

By Alford, Jennifer B.; Debbage, Keith G. et al. | Southeastern Geographer, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Surface Water Quality and Landscape Gradients in the North Carolina Cape Fear River Basin: The Key Role of Fecal Coliform


Alford, Jennifer B., Debbage, Keith G., Mallin, Michael A., Liu, Zhi-jun, Southeastern Geographer


Although relationships between specific land types and water quality have been well established, studies that observe these relationships across large heterogeneous landscapes are less common. This paper seeks to add to the growing body of literature related to how various land use configurations might influence the geography of surface water quality across a large, heterogeneous river basin network like the Cape Fear River Basin (CFRB) in North Carolina. Findings suggest that fecal coliform bacteria concentrations that exceeded state standards were positively associated with transitional land types (i.e. mixed forest and low density developed-open space (< 20 percent impervious surfaces)), especially when these land types encircled urbanization in the upper reaches of the river basin in both 2001 and 2006. As a result, it is argued that the transition from mixed forest and low density developed-open space to a more urban environment provides a series of well recognized human activities within the landscape gradient that can increase fecal coliform counts.

KEY WORDS: Water quality, land use, fecal coliform, watersheds, river basins

Aunque las relaciones entre los tipos especificos de tierra y la calidad del agua han sido bien establecidos, los estudios que observan estas relaciones a traves de grandes paisajes heterogeneos son menos comunes. En este trabajo se pretende anadir al creciente cuerpo de literatura relacionada con la forma en que varias configuraciones de uso de la tierra pueden influir en la geografia de la calidad del agua de superficie a traves de una red de cuencas hidrograficas amplia y heterogenea como la cuenca del rio Cape Fear (CFRB) en Carolina del Norte. Los resultados sugieren que las concentraciones de bacterias coliformes fecales que excedieron las normas estatales se asociaron positivamente con tipos de tierra de transicion (es decir, bosques mixtos y baja densidad desarrollado-espacio abierto (<20 por ciento de las superficies impermeables)), sobre todo cuando estos tipos de tierra rodeaban urbanizacion en la parte alta de la cuenca del rio. Como resultado, se argumenta que la transicion de bosque mixto y baja densidad desarrollado-espacio abierto a un entorno mas urbano ofrece una serie de actividades humanas bien reconocidos dentro det gradiente de paisaje que se puede aumentar el recuento de coliformes fecales.

PALABRAS CLAVE: calidad del agua, usos de la tierra, conformes fecales, las cuencas hidrograficas, cuencas fluviales

INTRODUCTION

There are over 3.6 million miles of rivers and streams in the United States, each exhibiting unique characteristics that are physically, biologically, and chemically influenced by the diverse landscapes they traverse (US EPA 2010). Much of the literature has focused on the inter-relationships between various land use configurations and surface water quality have been grounded in, but not limited to, geography, hydrology, aquatic biology, and environmental planning (Meybeck and Helmer 1989, Arnold and Gibbons 1996, Booth and Jackson 1997, Liu et al. 2000, Tong and Chen 2002, Rothenberger et al. 2009, Tu 2011). Although there is a growing literature that highlights relationships between specific land types and surface water quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that only 19 percent of streams and rivers have been fully assessed by federal and state agencies (US EPA 2013).

Some studies have observed significant relationships between different land types and water quality across different geographical scales (Aspinall and Pearson 2000, Tong and Chen 2002, Kelsey et al. 2004, Schoonover and Lockaby 2006, Tu et al. 2007, Wilson and Weng 2010, Tu 2011, Crim et al. 2012, Huang et al. 2013). However, these studies typically considered relationships at the local watershed scale or by observing a specific portion of a river basin. Although various federal and state agencies have conducted extensive studies related to water quality and land types, spatial analysis of larger river basins is less common in the geography literature, because of the large spatial context and complexity of these heterogeneous landscapes. …

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