Stream restoration for mitigation purposes has grown rapidly since the 1980s. As the science advances, some organizations (Chesapeake Bay Program, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality) have approved or are considering providing nutrient credits for stream restoration projects. Nutrient treatment on floodplains during overbank events is one of the least understood processes that have been considered as part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Stream Restoration Nutrient Crediting program. This study analyzed ten years of streamflow and water quality data from five stations in the Piedmont of North Carolina to evaluate proposed procedures for estimating nitrogen removal on the floodplain during overbank flow events. The volume of floodplain flow, the volume of floodplain flow potentially treated, and the nitrogen load retained on the floodplain were calculated for each overbank event, and a sensitivity analysis was completed. On average, 9% to 15% of the total annual streamflow volume accessed the floodplain. The percentage of the average annual volume of streamflow potentially treated ranged from 1.0% to 5.1%. Annually, this equates to 0.2% to 1.0% of the total N load retained/removed on the floodplain following restoration. The relatively low nitrogen retention/removal rates were due to a majority of floodplain flow occurring during a few large events each year that exceeded the treatment capacity of the floodplain. On an annual basis, 90% of total floodplain flow occurred during half of all overbank events and 50% of total floodplain flow occurred during two to three events each year. Findings suggest that evaluating only overbank events may lead to undervaluing stream restoration because treatment is limited by hydrologic controls that restrict floodplain retention time. Treatment is further governed by floodplain and channel size.
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