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Phosphorus indices: why we need to take stock of how we are doing

Sharpley, Andrew H., Beegle, Doug, Bolster, Carl, Good, Laura, Joern, Brad, Ketterings, Quirine, Lory, John, Mikkelsen, Rob, Osmond, Deanna, Vadas, Peter
Journal of Environmental Quality 2012 v.41 no.6 pp. 1711
Natural Resources Conservation Service, animal manure management, guidelines, hydrologic models, nutrient management, phosphorus, risk, risk estimate, soil analysis, standards and grades, surface water, water quality, United States
Many states have invested significant resources to identify components of their Phosphorus (P) Index that reliably estimate the relative risk of P loss and incentivize conservation management. However, differences in management recommendations and manure application guidelines for similar field conditions among state P Indices, coupled with minimal reductions in the extent of P-impaired surface waters and soil test P (STP) levels, led the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to revise the 590 Nutrient Management Standard. In preparation for this revision, NRCS requested that a review of the scientific underpinnings and accuracy of current P Indices be undertaken. They also sought to standardize the interpretation and management implications of P Indices, including establishment of ratings above which P applications should be curtailed. Although some states have initiated STP thresholds above which no application of P is allowed, STP alone cannot define a site’s risk of P loss. Phosphorus Indices are intended to account for all of the major factors leading to P loss. A rigorous evaluation of P Indices is needed to determine if they are directionally and magnitudinally correct. Although use of observed P loss data under various management scenarios is ideal, such data are spatially and temporally limited. Alternatively, the use of a locally validated water quality model that has been shown to provide accurate estimates of P loss may be the most expedient option to conduct Index assessments in the short time required by the newly revised 590 Standard.