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Managing Diffuse Phosphorus at the Source versus at the Sink

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posted on 2023-05-03, 18:41 authored by Katrina MacIntosh, Brooke Mayer, Richard McDowell, Stephen Powers, Laurence Baker, Treavor Boyer, Bruce Rittmann
Judicious phosphorus (P) management is a global grand challenge and critical to achieving and maintaining water quality objectives while maintaining food production. The management of point sources has been successful in lowering P inputs to aquatic environments, but more difficult is reducing P discharges associated with diffuse sources, such as nonpoint runoff from agriculture and urban landscapes, as well as P accumulated in soils and sediments. Strategies for effective diffuse-P management are imperative. Many options are currently available, and the most cost-effective and practical choice depends on the local situation. This critical review describes how the metrics of P quantity in kg ha−1 yr−1 and P form can influence decision-making and implementation of diffuse-P management strategies. Quantifying the total available pool of P, and its form, in a system is necessary to inform effective decision-making. The review draws upon a number of “current practice” case studies that span agriculture, cities, and aquatic sectors. These diverse examples from around the world highlight different diffuse-P management approaches, delivered at the source in the catchment watershed or at the aquatic sink. They underscore workable options for achieving water quality improvement and wider P sustainability. The diffuse-P management options discussed in this critical review are transferable to other jurisdictions at the global scale. We demonstrate that P quantity is typically highest and most concentrated at the source, particularly at farm scale. The most cost-effective and practically implementable diffuse-P management options are, therefore, to reduce P use, conserve P, and mitigate P loss at the source. Sequestering and removing P from aquatic sinks involves increasing cost, but is sometimes the most effective choice. Recovery of diffuse-P, while expensive, offers opportunity for the circular economy.


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Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No


American Chemical Society

Journal title

Environmental Science & Technology




MacIntosh, K. A., Mayer, B. K., McDowell, R. W., Powers, S. M., Baker, L. A., Boyer, T. H., & Rittmann, B. E. (2019). Managing Diffuse Phosphorus at the Source versus at the Sink. Environmental Science & Technology, 52(21), 11995–12001. doi:10.1021/acs.est.8b01143

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