Increased soluble phosphorus loads to Lake Erie: unintended consequences of conservation practices?

Jarvie, Helen P.; Johnson, Laura T.; Sharpley, Andrew N.; Smith, Douglas R.; Baker, David B.; Bruulsema, Tom W.; Confesor, Remegio. 2017 Increased soluble phosphorus loads to Lake Erie: unintended consequences of conservation practices? Journal of Environmental Quality, 46 (1). 123-132.

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Cumulative daily load time series show that the early 2000s marked a step-change increase in riverine soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) loads entering the Western Lake Erie Basin from three major tributaries: the Maumee, Sandusky, and Raisin Rivers. These elevated SRP loads have been sustained over the last 12 yr. Empirical regression models were used to estimate the contributions from (i) increased runoff from changing weather and precipitation patterns and (ii) increased SRP delivery (the combined effects of increased source availability and/or increased transport efficiency of labile phosphorus [P] fractions). Approximately 65% of the SRP load increase after 2002 was attributable to increased SRP delivery, with higher runoff volumes accounting for the remaining 35%. Increased SRP delivery occurred concomitantly with declining watershed P budgets. However, within these watersheds, there have been long-term, largescale changes in land management: reduced tillage to minimize erosion and particulate P loss, and increased tile drainage to improve field operations and profitability. These practices can inadvertently increase labile P fractions at the soil surface and transmission of soluble P via subsurface drainage. Our findings suggest that changes in agricultural practices, including some conservation practices designed to reduce erosion and particulate P transport, may have had unintended, cumulative, and converging impacts contributing to the increased SRP loads, reaching a critical threshold around 2002.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Rees (from October 2014)
ISSN: 0047-2425
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: phosphorus, tillage, conservation, river, water quality
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Agriculture and Soil Science
Date made live: 13 Jan 2017 12:30 +0 (UTC)

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