Within-river phosphorus retention: accounting for a missing piece in the watershed phosphorus puzzle

Jarvie, Helen P.; Sharpley, Andrew N.; Scott, J. Thad; Haggard, Brian E.; Bowes, Michael J. ORCID:; Massey, Lesley B.. 2012 Within-river phosphorus retention: accounting for a missing piece in the watershed phosphorus puzzle. Environmental Science & Technology, 46 (24). 13284-13292.

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The prevailing "puzzle" in watershed phosphorus (P) management is how to account for the nonconservative behavior (retention and remobilization) of P along the land-freshwater continuum. This often hinders our attempts to directly link watershed P sources with their water quality impacts. Here, we examine aspects of within-river retention of wastewater effluent P and its remobilization under high flows. Most source apportionment methods attribute P loads mobilized under high flows (including retained and remobilized effluent P) as nonpoint agricultural sources. We present a new simple empirical method which uses chloride as a conservative tracer of wastewater effluent, to quantify within-river retention of effluent P, and its contribution to river P loads, when remobilized under high flows. We demonstrate that within-river P retention can effectively mask the presence of effluent P inputs in the water quality record. Moreover, we highlight that by not accounting for the contributions of retained and remobilized effluent P to river storm-flow P loads, existing source apportionment methods may significantly overestimate nonpoint agricultural sources and underestimate wastewater sources in mixed land-use watersheds. This has important implications for developing effective watershed remediation strategies, where remediation needs to be equitably and accurately apportioned among point and nonpoint P contributors.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Water
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Boorman (to September 2014)
ISSN: 0013-936X
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: This document is the author’s final manuscript version of the journal article, incorporating any revisions agreed during the peer review process. Some differences between this and the publisher’s version remain. You are advised to consult the publisher’s version if you wish to cite from this article. The definitive version is available at
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 30 Oct 2013 12:17 +0 (UTC)

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