Temporal and spatial trends in nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the watershed of the Altamaha River, Georgia, USA

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The watershed of the Altamaha River, Georgia, is one of the largest in the southeastern U.S., draining 36,718 km2 (including parts of metro Atlanta). We calculated both nitrogen (fertilizer, net food and feed import, atmospheric deposition, and biological N fixation in agricultural and forest lands) and phosphorus (fertilizer and net food and feed import) inputs to the watershed for 6 time points between 1954 and 2002. Total nitrogen inputs rose from 1,952 kg N km−2 yr−1 in 1954 to a peak of 3,593 kg N km−2 yr−1 in 1982 and then declined to 2,582 kg N km−2 yr−1 by 2002. Phosphorus inputs rose from 409 kg P km−2 yr−1 in 1954 to 532 kg P km−2 yr−1 in 1974 before declining to 412 kg P km−2 yr−1 in 2002. Fertilizer tended to be the most important input of both N and P to the watershed, although net food and feed import increased in importance over time and was the dominant source of N input by 2002. When considered on an individual basis, fertilizer input tended to be highest in the middle portions of the watershed (Little and Lower Ocmulgee and Lower Oconee sub-watersheds) whereas net food and feed imports were highest in the upper reaches (Upper Oconee and Upper Ocmulgee sub-watersheds). Although the overall trend in recent years has been towards decreases in both N and P inputs, these trends may be offset due to continuing increases in animal and human populations.

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