, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 29-38

Identifying critical sources of phosphorus export from agricultural watersheds

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Surface runoff accounts for much of the phosphorus (P) input to and accelerated eutrophication of the fresh waters. Several states have tried to establish general threshold soil P levels above which the enrichment of surface runoff P becomes unacceptable. However, little information is available on the relationship between soil and surface runoff P, particularly for the northeastern United States. Further, threshold soil P criteria will be of limited value unless they are integrated with site potential for runoff and erosion. In response, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) developed a P Index (PI), which ranks the vulnerability of fields as sources of P loss in runoff, based on soil P, hydrology, and land use. This study evaluated the relationship between soil and surface runoff P in a study watershed in central Pennsylvania. The relationship was then incorporated into the (PI), and its impact on the identification of critical source areas within the watershed was examined. Using simulated rainfall (6.5 cm h−1 for 30 min), the concentration of dissolved P in surface runoff (0.2–2.1 mg l−1) from soils was related (r 2=0.67) to Mehlich-3 extractable soil P (30–750 mg kg−1). Using an environmentally based soil P threshold level of 450 mg kg−1 determined from the soil-runoff P relationship, the PI identified and ranked areas of the watershed vulnerable to P loss. The vulnerable areas were located along the stream channel, where areas of runoff generation and areas of high soil P coincide, and where careful management of P fertilizers and manure should be targeted.