Effects of urbanization on water quality in a watershed in northeastern Brazil

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Changes to land use generate imbalances in the natural dynamics of aquatic ecosystems. These changes can vary according to the specific characteristics of each environment and due to seasonal factors, reinforcing the importance of studies in this area in different regions of the globe. Thus, the aim of this study was to analyze the effects of land use change on the rivers and streams of the Cachoeira River Basin in the Northeast of Brazil. Samples were collected bi-monthly at 16 points along the basin over 1 year and analyzed for physical and chemical parameters (temperature, pH, conductivity, and percentage saturation of dissolved oxygen), inorganic nutrients (NO3, NO2, NH4+/NH3, PO43−, SiO4) and dissolved major ions (Ca2+, K+, Mg2+, Na+, HCO3). The highest concentrations of NO3, NO2, NH4+/NH3, and PO43− occurred at the points with the highest percentage of urban areas and population density. The major ions Ca2+, K+, Mg2+, Na+, and HCO3 were positively correlated with the percentage of pasture coverage; however, the high concentrations of these ions and the strong correlation between them revealed that other factors besides land use, such as soil cover, geological formation, and water deficit, may be jointly contributing to increases in their concentrations. Thus, the results show that urbanization represents the type of land use with the greatest negative effect on water quality since it alters the concentrations of inorganic nutrients dissolved in the Cachoeira River Basin.

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    Cultivation of cacao (Theobroma cacao) in the understorey, surrounded by natural vegetation.

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    Intrusive mass of plutonic igneous rock.


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We would like to thank the support provided from the FAPESB for the doctorate scholarship. We are grateful to all field volunteers who participated in the field collection and all the people who directly or indirectly contributed to this work.

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This work received funding from the Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz [Grant Number 0220.1100.1360].

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Correspondence to Thais Carvalho Cerqueira.

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Cerqueira, T.C., Mendonça, R.L., Gomes, R.L. et al. Effects of urbanization on water quality in a watershed in northeastern Brazil. Environ Monit Assess 192, 65 (2020) doi:10.1007/s10661-019-8020-0

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  • Landscape ecology
  • Tropical basin
  • Urbanization
  • Water quality