Salinization of freshwaters is a growing concern, especially in urban catchments. Existing aquatic life criteria for chloride (230 mg/L; a US standard) or total dissolved solids (1500 mg/L; specific to Ohio) do not protect sensitive species, and standards for sulfate have yet to be promulgated on the national level. To help identify water quality thresholds for protection and restoration, species sensitivity distributions were compiled for chloride and sulfate based on field observations of macroinvertebrate communities co-located with water quality samples obtained from rivers and streams throughout Ohio. Additionally, attainment of biological benchmarks for macroinvertebrate communities found in headwater streams were modeled against chloride and sulfate using Bayesian logistic regression. The hazard concentration based on statewide data for chloride was 52 mg/L. The hazard concentration for sulfate based on data from the Western Allegheny Plateau ecoregion was 152 mg/L. The median effect levels from logistic regression for chloride and sulfate varied by ecoregion. Mayfly taxa were disproportionately represented in taxa comprising the lower 5th percentile of the species sensitivity distributions for chloride. However, logistic regression models of individual taxa response (as presence/absence) revealed that some taxa considered sensitive to pollution in general were highly tolerant of chloride. For 166 taxa showing directional response to chloride, 91 decreased and 75 increased. For the 97 individual taxa showing directional responses to sulfate, 81 decreased. Of the 16 taxa showing an increase, 6 are considered tolerant of pollution, 9 facultative and 1 moderately intolerant, the latter being taxa in the dipteran family Tipulidae. The hazard concentrations are useful as protective thresholds for existing high-quality waters. The logistic regression model of attainment can be used to inform management goals conditional on site-specific information.
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