Phosphorus fluxes to the environment from mains water leakage: seasonality and future scenarios

Ascott, M.J.; Gooddy, D.C.; Lapworth, D.J. ORCID:; Davidson, P.; Bowes, M.J.; Jarvie, H.P.; Surridge, B.W.J.. 2018 Phosphorus fluxes to the environment from mains water leakage: seasonality and future scenarios. Science of the Total Environment, 636. 1321-1332.

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Accurate quantification of sources of phosphorus (P) entering the environment is essential for the management of aquatic ecosystems. P fluxes from mains water leakage (MWL-P) have recently been identified as a potentially significant source of P in urbanised catchments. However, both the temporal dynamics of this flux and the potential future significance relative to P fluxes from wastewater treatment works (WWT-P) remain poorly constrained. Using the River Thames catchment in England as an exemplar, we present the first quantification of both the seasonal dynamics of current MWL-P fluxes and future flux scenarios to 2040, relative to WWT-P loads and to P loads exported from the catchment. The magnitude of the MWL-P flux shows a strong seasonal signal, with pipe burst and leakage events resulting in peak P fluxes in winter (December, January, February) that are >150% of fluxes in either spring (March, April, May) or autumn (September, October, November). We estimate that MWL-P is equivalent to up to 20% of WWT-P during peak leakage events. Winter rainfall events control temporal variation in both WWT-P and riverine P fluxes which consequently masks any signal in riverine P fluxes associated with MWL-P. The annual average ratio of MWL-P flux to WWT-P flux is predicted to increase from 15 to 38% between 2015 and 2040, associated with large increases in P removal at wastewater treatment works by 2040 relative to modest reductions in mains water leakage. However, further research is required to understand the fate of MWL-P in the environment. Future P research and management programmes should more fully consider MWL-P and its seasonal dynamics, alongside the likely impacts of this source of P on water quality.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Water Resources (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0048-9697
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, Point source pollution, Groundwater quality, Surface water interaction, phosphorus, source apportionment, eutrophication, mains water, leakage
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 09 May 2018 10:34 +0 (UTC)

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