Background: Nutrient management in rivers and streams is difficult due to the spatial and temporal variability of algal growth responses. The objectives of this project were to determine the spatial and seasonal in situ variability of trophic status in the Lake Waco/Bosque River watershed, determine the variability in the lotic ecosystem trophic status index (LETSI) at each site as indicators of the system's nutrient sensitivity, and determine if passive diffusion periphytometers could provide threshold algal responses to nutrient enrichment.
Methods: We used the passive diffusion periphytometer to measure in-situ nutrient limitation and trophic status at eight sites in five streams in the Lake Waco/Bosque River Watershed in north-central Texas from July 1997 through October 1998. The chlorophyll a production in the periphytometers was used as an indicator of baseline chlorophyll a productivity and of maximum primary productivity (MPP) in response to nutrient enrichment (nitrogen and phosphorus). We evaluated the lotic ecosystem trophic status index (LETSI) using the ratio of baseline primary productivity to MPP, and evaluated the trophic class of each site.
Results: The rivers and streams in the Lake Waco/Bosque River Watershed exhibited varying degrees of nutrient enrichment over the 18-month sampling period. The North Bosque River at the headwaters (NB-02) located below the Stephenville, Texas wastewater treatment outfall consistently exhibited the highest degree of water quality impact due to nutrient enrichment. Sites at the outlet of the watershed (NB-04 and NB-05) were the next most enriched sites. Trophic class varied for enriched sites over seasons.
Conclusion: Seasonality played a significant role in the trophic class and sensitivity of each site to nutrients. Managing rivers and streams for nutrients will require methods for measuring in situ responses and sensitivities to nutrient enrichment. Nutrient enrichment periphytometers show significant potential for use in nutrient gradient studies.