Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2013OH294B

Rural on-site waste treatment as a source of nutrients to a eutrophic watershed

Institute: Ohio
Year Established: 2013 Start Date: 2013-03-01 End Date: 2014-12-31
Total Federal Funds: $9,100 Total Non-Federal Funds: $18,241

Principal Investigators: Christopher Spiese, Bryan Boulanger

Abstract: Nutrient loading in Riley Creek and the entire western Lake Erie Basin has led to eutrophication in watersheds and algal blooms in the Lake. Most management practices have focused on agricultural sources of nitrogen and phosphorus, with limited improvements for both nutrients. One potential source of nitrogen and phosphorus into the watershed from non-agricultural sources is rural septic systems. In Ohio, many systems link to tile drainage then discharge into rivers and streams. Taken together, each system has the potential for a near-constant discharge of nutrient-rich effluent. Due to the old age of most septic systems, there is a high probability of discharge of partially treated waste water into receiving streams, increasing loadings of nitrogen and phosphorus. This study seeks to quantify contributions of rural septic systems to nutrient loading in Riley Creek. Riley Creek will be used as a model system for other rural watersheds due to its low animal husbandry activity and because of the current monitoring program in place. This study will measure nitrogen and phosphorus in the stream, as well as human markers such as caffeine to track anthropogenic inputs. Correlation of nitrogen and/or phosphorus with caffeine concentrations will support the hypothesis that rural septic systems contribute to nutrient loading in the watershed. Because many Lake Erie tributaries have elevated concentrations of nutrients, identifying and quantifying all potential sources is of critical importance for management and mitigation. Further uses for this study may include assessment of best practices for reducing nutrient loadings in receiving waters, thus changing management strategies.