Catchment phosphorous losses: an export coefficient modelling approach with scenario analysis for water management

Nuno-Gonçalo Matias, Penny J. Johnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents the development of an export coefficient model to characterise the rates and sources of P export from land to water in four reservoir systems located in a semi-arid rural region in southern of Portugal. The model was developed to enable effective management of these important water resource systems under the EU Water Framework Directive. This is the first time such an approach has been fully adapted for the semi-arid systems typical of Mediterranean Europe. The sources of P loading delivered to each reservoir from its catchment were determined and scenario analysis was undertaken to predict the likely impact of catchment management strategies on the scale of rate of P loading delivered to each water body from its catchment. The results indicate the importance of farming and sewage treatment works/collective septic tanks discharges as the main contributors to the total diffuse and point source P loading delivered to the reservoirs, respectively. A reduction in the total P loading for all study areas would require control of farming practices and more efficient removal of P from human wastes prior to discharge to surface waters. The scenario analysis indicates a strategy based solely on reducing the agricultural P surplus may result in only a slow improvement in water quality, which would be unlikely to support the generation of good ecological status in reservoirs. The model application indicates that a reduction of P-inputs to the reservoirs should first focus on reducing P loading from sewage effluent discharges through the introduction of tertiary treatment (P-stripping) in all major residential areas. The fully calibrated export coefficient modelling approach transferred well to semi-arid regions, with the only significant limitation being the availability of suitable input data to drive the model. Further studies using this approach in semi-arid catchments are now needed to increase the knowledge of nutrient export behaviours in semi-arid regions.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1041-1064
Number of pages24
JournalWater Resources Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2012

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