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Assessing the Impact of Terrestrially Derived Phosphorus on Flowing Water Systems

Edwards, A. C., Twist, H., Codd, G. A.
Journal of environmental quality 2000 v.29 no.1 pp. 117-124
phosphorus, losses from soil, watersheds, biogeochemical cycles
Recent efforts to quantify the terrestrial inputs and cycling of P in agricultural systems are allowing management strategies to be developed to minimize the loss of P. While this approach has had clear advantages for standing waters, potential benefits for flowing freshwater systems are more difficult to predict. As a consequence of the unidirectional and dynamic nature of flow in rivers, temporal and spatial separations between the source of P and the point of potential impact arc introduced when considering a whole watershed. The ability to quantify the residence time of P within any particular part of a river system is therefore essential so that the specific contribution of individual P sources to biological demand can be determined. The smaller algal biomass productivity measured in flowing, compared with standing, waters at a similar supply rate of P indicates the need to consider the roles of other watershed factors in modifying the relationship between growth and P supply. The site-specific nature of responses to P suggests a need to develop a hierarchical classification system where individual river sections can be ranked according to their likely responsiveness to P. The ecoregion concept, combined with stream order, would integrate spatial and temporal aspects of gradient, land use, flow velocity, and water quality. For this to be successful, we must demonstrate a link between perturbations to the terrestrial P cycle, the delivery of P to flowing waters, and a biological impact.