Stream Nitrogen Inputs Reflect Groundwater Across a Snowmelt-Dominated Montane to Urban Watershed

Steven J. Hall, Samantha R. Weintraub, David Eiriksson, Paul D. Brooks, Michelle A. Baker, Gabriel J. Bowen, David R. Bowling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Snowmelt dominates the hydrograph of many temperate montane streams, yet little work has characterized how streamwater sources and nitrogen (N) dynamics vary across wildland to urban land use gradients in these watersheds. Across a third-order catchment in Salt Lake City, Utah, we asked where and when groundwater vs shallow surface water inputs controlled stream discharge and N dynamics. Stream water isotopes (δ2H and δ18O) reflected a consistent snowmelt water source during baseflow. Near-chemostatic relationships between conservative ions and discharge implied that groundwater dominated discharge year-round across the montane and urban sites, challenging the conceptual emphasis on direct stormwater inputs to urban streams. Stream and groundwater NO3- concentrations remained consistently low during snowmelt and baseflow in most montane and urban stream reaches, indicating effective subsurface N retention or denitrification and minimal impact of fertilizer or deposition N sources. Rather, NO3- concentrations increased 50-fold following urban groundwater inputs, showing that subsurface flow paths potentially impact nutrient loading more than surficial land use. Isotopic composition of H2O and NO3- suggested that snowmelt-derived urban groundwater intercepted NO3- from leaking sewers. Sewer maintenance could potentially mitigate hotspots of stream N inputs at mountain/valley transitions, which have been largely overlooked in semiarid urban ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1137-1146
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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