An intensive surface water quality study of the Muskeg River watershed - Vol I

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  • Seasonal and areal variations in significant water quality parameters in the Muskeg River basin of northeastern Alberta are described. Specific conductances and the concentrations of major ions (Ca+2, Mg+2, HCO3 -, and, to some extent, Na+ and Cl-) generally exhibited relatively stable seasonal levels, except for occasional fluctuations caused by storm events or deep groundwater flows. The relationship between physiographic features and watershed water quality indicated that water and chemical storage/movement in muskeg areas play a major role in maintaining or influencing observed patterns, levels, and loadings of Ca and Mg, as well as Na:Cl ratios. Longitudinal relationships, between key sub basin sites and the watershed focal point, for specific conductance and the concentrations of major ions, were significant enough to allow basic water quality information on the sub-basin sites to be deduced by monitoring the focal point. Good regression relationships, between inter variables (specific conductance and discharge) and the concentrations of major ions and related parameters, were found. It was possible to calculate annual loads discharged through the major sampling sites. The use of these relationships to monitor degradation or improvement in chemical water quality was proposed. Fluctuations in the dissolved oxygen regime were influenced by sub-basin dependent physical factors (turbulence, turbidity, and temperature) as well as changes in algal and microbial populations. \"Free\" CO2 (and pH) variations reflected fluctuations in biotic respiration, biochemical decomposition, and photosynthetic processes. Changes in microbial communities were also analysed in relation to macronutrient concentrations and the assimilative capacity of the streams. Orthophosphate phosphorus and nitrite- + nitrate - nitrogen (NO2--N + NO3--N) concentrations were generally low, especially during the ice-free period. This may be due to low watershed release and/or microbial uptake. The dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and ammonia-nitrogen (NH3 -N) concentrations peaked at approximately the same time (dissolved organic nitrogen, DON, peaked a month earlier); the coincidence appeared to inhibit nitrification. DOC:DON and NH3-N:(NO2--N + NO3--N) ratios, along with variations in NH3-N concentrations, indicate that bacterial communities in streams of the Muskeg River basin are, at present, effective in converting organic substances to nutrients. Levels of K, B, Co, Ni, Hg, Pb, Cu, and Zn were found to be influenced by biotic factors. The observed levels of certain metals were lower than Alberta Surface Water Quality objectives, while for As, Hg, Ni, Zn, Fe, and Mn, the objective levels were exceeded. The higher baseflow concentrations of extractable Cr, Pb, Zn, V, Ni, Fe, Al, Mn, Cu, and Co were associated with the particulate rather than the dissolved phase.

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