Nutrient loading to estuaries with heavily populated watersheds can have profound ecological consequences. In evaluating policy options for managing nitrogen (N), it is helpful to understand current and historic spatial loading patterns to the system. We modeled N inputs to Narragansett Bay from 1850 to 2000, using data on population, human waste disposal, livestock, fertilizer, and atmospheric deposition. We found that total N loading to the bay increased 250% from 1850 to 2000, and 80% from 1900 to 2000. Loading to the upper bay increased far more than that to the lower bay, and the most important source shifted from non-point animal waste to human waste concentrated at sewage treatment facilities. We also modeled future N loads in 2015 under four management scenarios. Planned improvements in sewage treatment would reduce N loads 9% below business-as-usual, to the 1990 loading rate. Greater reductions, to circa 1900 rates of loading, may be possible.
Modeled Nitrogen Loading to Narragansett Bay: 1850 to 2015