Contribution of Leaf Litter to Nutrient Export during Winter Months in an Urban Residential Watershed

Anika R. Bratt, Jacques C Finlay, Sarah E Hobbie, Ben D Janke, Adam C. Worm, Kathrine L. Kemmitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Scopus citations


Identification of nonpoint sources of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in urban systems is imperative to improving water quality and better managing eutrophication. Winter contributions and sources of annual N and P loads from urban watersheds are poorly characterized in northern cities because monitoring is often limited to warm-weather periods. To determine the winter export of N and P, we monitored stormwater outflow in a residential watershed in Saint Paul, Minnesota during 2012-2014. Our data demonstrate that winter melt events contribute a high percentage of annual N and P export (50%). We hypothesized that overwintering leaf litter that is not removed by fall street sweeping could be an important source to winter loads of N and P. We estimated contributions of this source by studying decomposition in lawns, street gutters, and catch basins during two winters. Rates of mass and N loss were negligible during both winters. However, P was quickly solubilized from decomposing leaves. Using mass balances and estimates of P leaching losses, we estimated that leaf litter could contribute 80% of winter total dissolved phosphorus (TDP) loading in this watershed (∼40% of annual TDP loading). Our work indicates that urban trees adjacent to streets likely represent a major source of P pollution in northern cities. Management that targets important winter sources such as tree leaves could be highly effective for reducing P loading and may mitigate eutrophication in urban lakes and streams in developed cities. (Figure Presented).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3138-3147
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 21 2017

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