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Arizona State University (2011)

Effluent-Dominated Waterways in the Southwestern United States : Advancing Water Policy through Ecological Analysis

White, Meg

Titre : Effluent-Dominated Waterways in the Southwestern United States : Advancing Water Policy through Ecological Analysis

Auteur : White, Meg

Université de soutenance : Arizona State University

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Plant Biology 2011

Over the past century in the southwestern United States human actions have altered hydrological processes that shape riparian ecosystems. One change, release of treated wastewater into waterways, has created perennial base flows and increased nutrient availability in ephemeral or intermittent channels. While there are benefits to utilizing treated wastewater for environmental flows, there are numerous unresolved ecohydrological issues regarding the efficacy of effluent to sustain groundwater-dependent riparian ecosystems. This research examined how nutrient-rich effluent, released into waterways with varying depths to groundwater, influences riparian plant community development. Statewide analysis of spatial and temporal patterns of effluent generation and release revealed that hydrogeomorphic setting significantly influences downstream riparian response. Approximately 70% of effluent released is into deep groundwater systems, which produced the lowest riparian development. A greenhouse study assessed how varying concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, emulating levels in effluent, influenced plant community response. With increasing nitrogen concentrations, vegetation emerging from riparian seed banks had greater biomass, reduced species richness, and greater abundance of nitrophilic species. The effluent-dominated Santa Cruz River in southern Arizona, with a shallow groundwater upper reach and deep groundwater lower reach, served as a study river while the San Pedro River provided a control. Analysis revealed that woody species richness and composition were similar between the two systems. Hydric pioneers (Populus fremontii, Salix gooddingii) were dominant at perennial sites on both rivers. Nitrophilic species (Conium maculatum, Polygonum lapathifolium) dominated herbaceous plant communities and plant heights were greatest in effluent-dominated reaches. Riparian vegetation declined with increasing downstream distance in the upper Santa Cruz, while patterns in the lower Santa Cruz were confounded by additional downstream agricultural input and a channelized floodplain. There were distinct longitudinal and lateral shifts toward more xeric species with increasing downstream distance and increasing lateral distance from the low-flow channel. Patterns in the upper and lower Santa Cruz reaches indicate that water availability drives riparian vegetation outcomes below treatment facilities. Ultimately, this research informs decision processes and increases adaptive capacity for water resources policy and management through the integration of ecological data in decision frameworks regarding the release of effluent for environmental flows

Mots Clés : Ecology / Water resources management / Sustainability / decision making / effluent / riparian ecosystems / river / treated wastewater / water policy


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