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A Conceptual Approach for Integrating Phosphorus and Nitrogen Management at Watershed Scales

Heathwaite, Louise, Sharpley, Andrew, Gburek, William
Journal of environmental quality 2000 v.29 no.1 pp. 158
phosphorus, nitrogen, losses from soil, watershed management, nutrient management, best management practices
Since the late 1960s, point-sources of water pollution have been reduced due to their ease of identification and treatment. As water quality problems remain and further point-source measures become less cost-effective, attention is directed toward reducing agricultural nonpoint-sources of P and N. In the past, separate strategies for P and N were developed and implemented at farm or watershed scales. Because of differing biology, chemistry, and flow pathways of P and N in soil, these narrowly targeted strategies may lead to mixed results. In some cases, N management of manures has increased soil P and subsequent P enrichment of surface runoff, while no-till has reduced P losses but increased nitrate leaching. Thus, an integrated approach to nutrient management is needed, with best management practices (BMPs) targeted to critical areas of a watershed that contribute most of the P and N exported. We have developed indices that identify critical sources and transport pathways controlling P and N export. These indices are applied to a mixed land use watershed in Pennsylvania. Areas most vulnerable to P loss are limited to small, well-defined areas of the watershed (<20% of area) near the stream channel. In contrast to P, larger areas contribute to nitrate leaching and generally occur on the upper boundaries of the watershed (60%), where freely draining soils and high manure and fertilizer N applications are made. Thus, differing levels of nutrient management may be appropriate for different areas of a watershed.