Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 2496–2505 | Cite as

Establishment of reference conditions for nutrients in an intensive agricultural watershed, Eastern China

  • Jiabo Chen
  • Jun LuEmail author
Research Article


Nutrient enrichment from nonpoint source pollution is one of the main causes of poor water quality and biotic impairment in many streams and rivers worldwide. The establishment of reference nutrient conditions in a river system is an essential but difficult task for water quality control. In the present study, the reference concentrations of total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) were estimated in an intensive agricultural watershed, the Cao-E River system of Eastern China. Based on a 3-year water quality monitoring data in the river system, three approaches were adopted to establish the reference concentrations of TN and TP, those are the 75th percentile of frequency distribution of nutrient concentrations in reference streams, the 25th percentile of frequency distribution of nutrient concentration in general streams (including reference and non-reference streams) and regression modeling. Results showed that the nutrient reference concentrations were slightly different from different approaches. By the three approaches, the average reference concentrations for TN and TP in the study system were 1.73 ± 0.13 mg l−1 and 55.23 ± 4.77 μg l−1 with CV of 7.39 % and 8.63 %, respectively. Accordingly, the reference concentrations for TN and TP were recommended to be 1.70 mg l−1 and 55 μg l−1, respectively. In the mountainous and intensive agricultural watershed, the major anthropogenic impacts to river water quality were the urban area percentage cover, cropland area with slopes 0–8°, and livestock and poultry waste loads density. These variables could account for 89.7 % and 80.3 % of the total variations for TN and TP concentration, respectively.


Reference condition of nutrient River system Total nitrogen Total phosphorus Frequency distribution of monitoring index Water quality 



This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 40871104) and Chinese National Key Technology R&D Program (Grant No. 2012BAC17B01). We thank Doctor Genxin Song and Doctor Bao She of Institution of Remote Sensing and Information System Application, Zhejiang University for assisting with remote sensing images interpretation and some geographic information system data generation.


  1. Benoy GA, Brua RB, Culp JM, McGoldrick DJ, Chambers PA, Vis C (2011) Development of environmental thresholds for nitrogen and phosphorus in streams. J Environ Qual 41:7–20Google Scholar
  2. Chambers PA, McGoldrick DJ, Brua RB, Vis C, Culp JM, Benoy GA (2011) Development of environmental thresholds for nitrogen and phosphorus in streams. J Environ Qual 41:7–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chen DJ, Lu J, Shen YN, Dahlgren RA, Jin SQ (2009) Estimation of critical nutrient amounts based on input–output analysis in an agriculture watershed of eastern China. Agr Ecosyst Environ 134:159–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ding X, Shen Z, Hong Q, Yang Z, Wu X, Liu R (2010) Development and test of the export coefficient model in the upper reach of the Yangtze River. J Hydrol 383:233–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dodds WK (2007) Trophic state, eutrophication and nutrient criteria in streams. Trends Ecol Evol 22:669–676CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dodds WK, Oakes RM (2004) A technique for establishing reference nutrient concentrations across watersheds affected by humans. Limnol Oceanogr-Methods 2:333–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hu J, Qiao Y, Zhou L, Li S (2012) Spatiotemporal distributions of nutrients in the downstream from Gezhouba Dam in Yangtze River, China. Environ Sci Pollut Res 19:2849–2859CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hughes RM, Larsen DP, Omernik JM (1986) Regional reference sites: a method for assessing stream potentials. Environ Manag 10:629–635CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Jiang X, Sommer SG, Christensen KV (2011) A review of the biogas industry in China. Energ Policy 39:6073–6081CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jin S, Lu J, Chen D, Shen Y, Shi Y (2009) Relationship between catchment characteristics and nitrogen forms in Cao-E River Basin, Eastern China. J Environ Sci 21:429–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Johnes PJ (1996) Evaluation and management of the impact of land use change on the nitrogen and phosphorus load delivered to surface waters: the export coefficient modelling approach. J Hydrol 183:323–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kershner JL, Roper BB, Bouwes N, Henderson R, Archer E (2004) An analysis of stream habitat conditions in reference and managed watersheds on some federal lands within the Columbia River basin. N Am J Fish Manag 24:1363–1375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Li X, Xiao B, Yu D, Wang Q, Tao M, Chen J Effects of no-tillage practice on Atrazine loss on sloping cropland. In: Water Resource and Environmental Protection (ISWREP), 2011 International Symposium 2011. IEEE, pp 1951–1953Google Scholar
  14. Mehaffey MH, Nash MS, Wade TG, Ebert DW, Jones KB, Rager A (2005) Linking land cover and water quality in New York City’s water supply watersheds. Environ Monit Assess 107:29–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Miltner RJ (2010) A method and rationale for deriving nutrient criteria for small rivers and streams in Ohio. Environ Manag 45:842–855CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. MWRPRC (2008) Standards for classification and gradation of soil erosion (in Chinese) Prepared and published by: Ministry of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China (MWRPRC). China Hydroelectricity Press, Beijing, pp 1–20Google Scholar
  17. Oh SH, See MT (2012) Pork Preference for Consumers in China, Japan and South Korea. Asian Australas J Anim Sci 25:143–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Oh SH, Whitley NC (2011) Pork Production in China, Japan and South Korea. Asian-Australas J Animal Sci 24:1629–1636CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sheeder SA, Evans BM (2004) Estimating nutrient and sediment threshhold criteria for biological impairment in Pennsylvania watersheds. J Am Water Resour Assoc 40:881–888CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Shen YN, Lu J, Chen DJ, Shi YM (2011) Response of stream pollution characteristics to catchment land cover in Cao-E River basin, China. Pedosphere 21:115–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Smith RA, Alexander RB, Schwarz GE (2003) Natural background concentrations of nutrients in streams and rivers of the conterminous United States. Environ Sci Technol 37(14):3039–3047CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Smith VH, Tilman GD, Nekola JC (1999) Eutrophication: impacts of excess nutrient inputs on freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems. Environ Pollut 100:179–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Suplee MW, Varghese A, Cleland J (2007) Developing Nutrient Criteria for Streams: An Evaluation of the Frequency Distribution Method1. J Am Water Resour Assoc 43:453–472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tong L, Li P, Wang Y, Zhu K (2009) Analysis of veterinary antibiotic residues in swine wastewater and environmental water samples using optimized SPE-LC/MS/MS. Chemosphere 74:1090–1097CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Trautman MB (1981) The fishes of Ohio: with illustrated keys. Ohio State University Press, Columbus, OhioGoogle Scholar
  26. USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency)(1998) National Strategy for the Development of Regional Nutrient Criteria. Available at: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Washington, DC. Accessed July, 1998
  27. USEPA(United States Environmental Protection Agency)(2000) Nutrient criteria technical guidance manual: Rivers and streams. Available at: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. Accessed July, 2000
  28. USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) (2002) Summary Table for the Nutrient Criteria Documents. Available at: Accessed July, 2002
  29. Wei R, Ge F, Huang S, Chen M, Wang R (2011) Occurrence of veterinary antibiotics in animal wastewater and surface water around farms in Jiangsu Province, China. Chemosphere 82:1408–1414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. WFD (Water Framework Directive) (2000) Common implementation strategy for the water framework directive. Available at: European Communities, Luxembourg. Accessed Jule, 2000
  31. Wu F, Meng W, Zhao X, Li H, Zhang R, Cao Y, Liao H (2010) China embarking on development of its own national water quality criteria system. Environ Sci Technol 44:7992–7993CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Yates CA, Johnes PJ (2013) Nitrogen speciation and phosphorus fractionation dynamics in a lowland Chalk catchment. Sci Total Environ 444:466–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Zheng L, Gerritsen J, Beckman J, Ludwig J, Wilkes S (2008) Land Use, Geology, Enrichment, and Stream Biota in the Eastern Ridge and Valley Ecoregion: Implications for Nutrient Criteria Development1. J Am Water Resour Assoc 44:1521–1536CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Natural Resources, College of Environment and Natural ResourcesZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina
  2. 2.China Ministry of Education Key Lab of Environment Remediation and Ecological HealthZhejiang UniversityHangzhouChina

Personalised recommendations