Exploring Spatiotemporal Impacts Of A Cemetery On Urban Water Quality In A Headwater Watershed With Varied Human-built Infrastructure

Samuel Nesheim, Syracuse University


Urban watersheds receive pollutant inputs from a variety of sources including industrial discharges, atmospheric deposition, road salt, and stormwater runoff. The limited presence of riparian zones exacerbates the uptake and degradation of pollutants in these urban watersheds. Cemeteries are integral components to urban ecosystems, providing benefits and ecosystem services similar to urban parks. However, studies have shown that burial products can export nutrients, trace elements, and other contaminants to nearby groundwater and soils, presumably leading to surface water contamination. In this study I focus on Meadowbrook Creek, an urban headwater stream in Syracuse, New York, which has shown significant nitrate contributions from a local cemetery, previously suggested to be partially from burial decay products. I collected biweekly surface water geochemical data over the course of a year to analyze for major and trace dissolved analytes. The primary objective of this study is to assess the spatial, decadal, and seasonal trends of solutes from the cemetery and other watershed sources, with a particular emphasis on nitrate. In addition, I also evaluate the effects of hydrologic connectivity and hydrological processes on solute release and transport in the urban stream under both baseflow and stormflow conditions. Results indicate that the burial decay products within the cemetery are not a source of nitrate in Meadowbrook but rather fertilizer, decaying plant material, and wastewater should be considered as the primary nitrate sources within the watershed. The continuing use of road salt contributes to long-term sodium and chloride within the watershed, and geogenic sources are responsible for major analytes such as calcium and sulfate. Trace metals in the watershed likely originate from various urban infrastructure including the cemetery excluding burial decay product. Storm events cause flushing and dilution of solutes with the extent varying depending on the analyte and season.