Detecting seasonal and cyclical trends in agricultural runoff water quality—hypothesis tests and block bootstrap power analysis

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Seasonal and cyclic trends in nutrient concentrations at four agricultural drainage ditches were assessed using a dataset generated from a multivariate, multiscale, multiyear water quality monitoring effort in the agriculturally dominant Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) River Watershed in South Texas. An innovative bootstrap sampling-based power analysis procedure was developed to evaluate the ability of Mann-Whitney and Noether tests to discern trends and to guide future monitoring efforts. The Mann-Whitney U test was able to detect significant changes between summer and winter nutrient concentrations at sites with lower depths and unimpeded flows. Pollutant dilution, non-agricultural loadings, and in-channel flow structures (weirs) masked the effects of seasonality. The detection of cyclical trends using the Noether test was highest in the presence of vegetation mainly for total phosphorus and oxidized nitrogen (nitrite + nitrate) compared to dissolved phosphorus and reduced nitrogen (total Kjeldahl nitrogen—TKN). Prospective power analysis indicated that while increased monitoring can lead to higher statistical power, the effect size (i.e., the total number of trend sequences within a time-series) had a greater influence on the Noether test. Both Mann-Whitney and Noether tests provide complementary information on seasonal and cyclic behavior of pollutant concentrations and are affected by different processes. The results from these statistical tests when evaluated in the context of flow, vegetation, and in-channel hydraulic alterations can help guide future data collection and monitoring efforts. The study highlights the need for long-term monitoring of agricultural drainage ditches to properly discern seasonal and cyclical trends.

Original languageEnglish
Article number157
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Agricultural drainage ditches
  • Cyclicity
  • Noether test
  • Non-point source pollution


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