A model of phytoplankton, dissolved oxygen and nutrients is presented and applied to the Charles River, Massachusetts within a framework of Monte Carlo simulation. The model parameters are conditioned using data from eight sampling stations along a 40 km stretch of the Charles River, during a (supposed) steady-state period in the summer of 1996, and the conditioned model is evaluated using data from later in the same year. Regional multi-objective sensitivity analysis is used to identify the parameters and pollution sources most affecting the various model outputs under the conditions observed during that summer. The effects of Monte Carlo sampling error are included in this analysis, and the observations which have least contributed to model conditioning are indicated. It is shown that the sensitivity analysis can be used to speculate about the factors responsible for undesirable levels of eutrophication, and to speculate about the risk of failure of nutrient reduction interventions at a number of strategic control sections. The analysis indicates that phosphorus stripping at the CRPCD wastewater treatment plant on the Charles River would be a high-risk intervention, especially for controlling eutrophication at the control sections further downstream. However, as the risk reflects the perceived scope for model error, it can only be recommended that more resources are invested in data collection and model evaluation. Furthermore, as the risk is based solely on water quality criteria, rather than broader environmental and economic objectives, the results need to be supported by detailed and extensive knowledge of the Charles River problem. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.