We used more than thirty years of water quality monitoring data collected by the United States Geological Survey at several stations in the Altamaha River and its tributaries to examine the relationship between population density, agricultural land use, and nutrient export from the watershed. Population densities in the Altamaha River watershed increased during the study period, most notably in the upper watershed near metropolitan Atlanta, while agricultural land use declined throughout the watershed. NO(x), TN and P in rivers were related to human population densities, while OC and NH(4)(+) concentrations in rivers were apparently related to agricultural land use. A general pattern of increasing NO(x) and TN and decreasing NH(4)(+), P and OC over time throughout the watershed reflected changing population and land use. The overall average load from the Altamaha River to the coastal zone during the study period was 1.1, 5.6, 16.9, 0.9 and 262 kmol km(-2) yr(-1), delivering 40, 197, 596, 30, and 9213.10(6) mol yr(-1) of NH(4)(+), NO(x), TN, P and OC, respectively, to the coastal zone. The nutrient export patterns suggest that N and P loading to rivers in the Altamaha River watershed was greatest in the upper watershed where high population densities were found, and in-stream processing, dilution, and only moderate inputs during transit through the lower watershed resulted in relatively low export from the watershed to coastal waters.