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Balancing between retention and flushing in river networks — optimizing nutrient management to improve trophic state

Honti, Márk, Istvánovics, Vera, Kovács, Ádám S.
Science of the total environment 2010 v.408 no.20 pp. 4712-4721
Algae, biomass, drainage, geographic information systems, good agricultural practices, lakes, models, nutrient management, phosphorus, pollution, rivers, water quality, watersheds, Hungary
River basin management can frequently involve decisive situations, when conflicting interests must be resolved. In the Zala River catchment (Western Hungary) local efforts to improve water quality by reducing algal biomass are not always harmonized with the requirement of sustaining the same objective in its recipient, Lake Balaton. The PhosFate catchment model is a GIS tool designed to estimate the spatial variability and fate of diffuse phosphorus emission during transport. Besides diffuse pollution, a simplified annual hydrologic balance is also calculated. A new module was added to PhosFate that tracked the development of entrained algae during their travel downstream. The extended model was used to simulate the current average algal concentrations in the river network. The numerous small reservoirs and impoundments on the tributaries of the Zala River were identified as the key elements in determining algal biomass, since they fundamentally increase the water residence time (WRT) in the system. Without reservoirs, the short WRT in the drainage network would successfully prevent the development of suspended algal biomass despite the fairly high SRP concentrations. However, the removal of such standing waters is impossible for socio-economic reasons and reducing the overall P load to Lake Balaton would also require increasing WRT in the system. As a resolution to these conflicting interests, a hybrid management strategy was designed to simultaneously reach both goals: (i) switching from WRT to P limitation in reservoirs responsible for most of algal growth, and (ii) optimized deployment of buffer zones and the introduction of best agricultural practices on the remaining majority of the catchment to reduce the overall P load. The suggested management approach could be applied in other river catchments too, due to the extensive presence of reservoirs and impoundments in many stream networks.