Effect of soils on water quantity and quality in Piedmont forested headwater watersheds of North Carolina


Water quantity and quality data were compared from six headwater watersheds on two distinct soil formations, Carolina Slate Belt (CSB) and Triassic Basins (TB). CSB soils are generally thicker, less erodible, and contain less clay content than soils found in TB. TB generated significantly more discharge/precipitation ratio than CSB (0.33 vs. 0.24) in the 2009 dormant season. In the 2009 growing season, TB generated significantly less discharge/precipitation ratio than CSB (0.02 vs. 0.07). Over the entire monitoring period, differences in discharge/precipitation ratios between CSB and TB were not significantly different (0.17 vs. 0.20, respectively). Storm-flow rates were significantly higher in TB than CSB in both dormant and growing season. Benthic macroinvertebrate biotic index scores were excellent for all streams. Nutrient concentrations and exports in CSB and TB were within background levels for forests. Low-stream nitrate and ammonium concentrations and exports suggested that both CSB and TB were nitrogen limited. Soils appear to have had a significant influence on seasonal and storm-flow generation, but not on long-term total water yield and water quality under forested conditions. This study indicated that watersheds on TB soils might be more prone to storm-flow generation than on CSB soils when converted from forest to urban. Future urban growth in the area should consider differences in baseline hydrology and effects of landuse change on water quantity and quality.

  • Citation: Boggs, Johnny; Sun, Ge; Jones, David; McNulty, Steven G. 2013. Effect of soils on water quantity and quality in Piedmont forested headwater watersheds of North Carolina. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 49(1):132-150.
  • Keywords: Triassic Basins, Carolina Slate Belt, forest hydrology, streamflow, water quality, North Carolina Piedmont.
  • Posted Date: March 6, 2013
  • Modified Date: October 28, 2013
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