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Modeling phosphorus reduction strategies from the international St. Clair-Detroit River system watershed

Dagnew, Awoke, Scavia, Donald, Wang, Yu-Chen, Muenich, Rebecca, Kalcic, Margaret
Journal of Great Lakes research 2019 v.45 no.4 pp. 742-751
Soil and Water Assessment Tool model, cover crops, drainage, fertilizer rates, filter strips, pollution load, reactive phosphorus, rivers, subwatersheds, surface water, tillage, total phosphorus, water quality, wetlands, Canada, Lake Erie, United States
Nutrient loading from nonpoint sources has degraded water quality in large water bodies globally. The water quality of Lake Erie, the most productive of the Laurentian Great Lakes bordering the United States and Canada, is influenced by phosphorus loads from the Detroit River that drains an almost 19,000 km2 international watershed. We used the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to evaluate a range of management practices to potentially reduce total phosphorus (TP) and dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) loads. Scenarios included both single practices and bundles of multiple practices. Single practice scenarios included fertilizer rate reduction (Rate) and sub-surface placement (PL), filter strips (FL), grassed waterways, cover crops (CC), wetlands (WT), controlled drainage, and changes in tillage practices. Bundle scenarios included combinations of Rate, PL, FL, CC, and WT with three adoption strategies: application on all applicable areas, on 55% of randomly selected applicable areas, and on 55% of high phosphorus yielding applicable areas. Results showed that among the single practice scenarios, FL, WT, PL, CC, and Rate performed well in reducing both TP and DRP loss from agricultural dominated sub-watersheds. Over all, the CC, FL, WT bundle performed best, followed by the CC, PL, WT bundle, reducing the load up to 80% and 70%, respectively, with 100% implementation. However, targeting high phosphorus yielding areas performed nearly as well as 100% implementation. Results from this work suggest that there are potential pathways for phosphorus load reduction, but extensive implementation of multiple practices is required.