More Than a First Flush: Urban Creek Storm Hydrographs Demonstrate Broad Contaminant Pollutographs

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Stormwater runoff clearly impacts water quality and ecological health of urban receiving waters. Subsequent management efforts are often guided by conceptual models of contaminant “first flushes”, defined by disproportionate concentrations or mass loads early in the storm hydrograph. However, studies examining the dynamics of contaminant transport and receiving water hydrology have primarily focused on “traditional” stormwater contaminants and point sources, with less evaluation of chemically complex non-point pollution sources. Accordingly, we conducted baseflow and storm sampling in Miller Creek, a representative small, urban watershed in the Puget Sound region (WA, USA). We comprehensively characterized organic contaminant profiles and dynamics via targeted quantification of 35 stormwater-derived chemicals, complementary non-target HRMS analyses, and surrogate chemical metrics of ecological health. For quantified analytes, total daily baseflow loads were 0.8-3.4 g/day and storm event loads were ~80-320 g/storm (~48 h interval), with nine contaminants detected during storms at >500 ng/L. Notably, urban creek “pollutographs” were much broader than relatively sharp storm hydrographs and exhibited transport-limited (rather than mass-limited) source dynamics, with immediate water quality degradation during low-intensity precipitation and continued mobilization of contaminant mass across the entire hydrograph. Study outcomes support prioritization of source identification and focused stormwater management efforts to improve water quality and promote ecosystem function in small urban receiving waters.

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Environmental Science & Technology



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