Publications: Peer-reviewed journal articles (by staff)

The use of a mass balance phosphorus budget for informing nutrient management in shallow coastal lakes

1 March, 2016

Waters SA, Webster-Brown JG. 2016. The use of a mass balance phosphorus budget for informing nutrient management in shallow coastal lakes. Journal of Hydro-environment Research 10:32-49.

DOI link here.


Eutrophication has degraded ecosystem, cultural and recreational values in Lake Forsyth, a small, shallow, coastal lake in New Zealand. To inform catchment management decisions designed to prevent algal blooms and improve water quality, a sub-catchment scale, mass-balance approach to understanding the behaviour of the critical nutrient, phosphorous (P), has been taken. To determine a P budget for the lake, and identify key P reservoirs, hydrological inflows and outflows were measured over a 15 month period. These were combined with total (TP) and dissolved reactive P (DRP) concentrations in these flows, to determine the external load of P transported to the lake. Lake water was also analysed for TP and DRP concentrations, and chemical extractions were used to determine the mass and mobility of P in the lake sediments. Biomass surveys and chemical digestions were used to quantify the mass of P contained in lake macrophytes. Changes in the lake water P reservoirs were then used to assess the contribution of external P loading relative to fluxes of P from the sediment to the lake water column (internal P loading). More than 7000 kg P per year was delivered to the lake, 68% of which came from a single sub-catchment. P associated with suspended particulate material accounted for 80% of the external P load transported into the lake and 61% of the load delivered over the study period was transported during a single flood event. A reduction of 53% in the external P load is necessary to achieve a recommended areal loading guideline. As the lake has no permanent outflow, this external load and the low flushing rates have created a large legacy reservoir of P in the lake sediments with 70% of external P loads retained in the lake. It is the release of P from these lake sediments rather than fluctuations in external loading that control P concentrations in the lake water column during the blooms of nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. The results indicate the importance of targeting both external and internal loading processes in the catchment. The sub-catchment scale, mass-balance approach to determining a P budget and quantifying P reservoirs enable critical source areas for external P loads to be identified, and the potential efficacy of targeted interventions to reduce P sources and minimise P transport, such as wetlands and sediment retention basins, to be assessed.