Integrating phosphorus and nitrogen decision management at watershed scales

Richard W. McDowell, Andrew N. Sharpley, Peter J.A. Kleinman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The persistence of water quality problems has directed attention towards the reduction of agricultural nonpoint sources of phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N). We assessed the practical impact of three management scenarios to reduce P and N losses from a mixed land use watershed in central Pennsylvania, USA. Using Scenario 1 (an agronomic soil P threshold of 100 mg Mehlich-3 P kg-1, above which no crop response is expected), 81 percent of our watershed would receive no P as fertilizer or manure. Under Scenario 2 (an environmental soil P threshold of 195 mg Mehlich-3 P kg-1, above which the loss of P in surface runoff and subsurface drainage increases greatly), restricts future P inputs in only 51 percent of the watershed. Finally, using scenario 3 (P and N indices that account for likely source and transport risks), 25 percent of the watershed was at high risk or greater of P loss, while 60 percent of the watershed was classified as of high risk of nitrate (NO3) leaching. Areas at risk of P loss were near the stream channel, while areas at risk of NO3 leaching were near the boundaries of the watershed, where freely draining soils and high manure and fertilizer N applications coincide. Remedial measures to minimize P export should focus on critical source areas, while remedial measures to reduce N losses should be source based, concentrating on more efficient use of N by crops.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-491
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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