Identifying phosphorus (P) source areas and transport pathways is a key step in decreasing P loading to natural water systems. This study compared the effects of two modeled runoff generation processes - saturation excess and infiltration excess - on total phosphorus (TP) and soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) concentrations in 10 catchment streams of a Catskill mountain watershed in southeastern New York. The spatial distribution of runoff from forested land and agricultural land was generated for both runoff processes; results of both distributions were consistent with Soil Conservation Service-Curve Number (SCS-CN) theory. These spatial runoff distributions were then used to simulate stream concentrations of TP and SRP through a simple equation derived from an observed relation between P concentration and land use; empirical results indicate that TP and SRP concentrations increased with increasing percentage of agricultural land. Simulated TP and SRP stream concentrations predicted for the 10 catchments were strongly affected by the assumed runoff mechanism. The modeled TP and SRP concentrations produced by saturation excess distribution averaged 31 percent higher and 42 percent higher, respectively, than those produced by the infiltration excess distribution. Misrepresenting the primary runoff mechanism could not only produce erroneous concentrations, it could fail to correctly locate critical source areas for implementation of best management practices. Thus, identification of the primary runoff mechanism is critical in selection of appropriate models in the mitigation of nonpoint source pollution. Correct representation of runoff processes is also critical in the future development of biogeochemical transport models, especially those that address nutrient fluxes.
Additional Publication Details
The impact of runoff generation mechanisms on the location of critical source areas
Journal of the American Water Resources Association