Changes in water quality of the River Frome (UK) from 1965 to 2009: is phosphorus mitigation finally working?

M. J. Bowes, Jim Smith, C. Neal, D. V. Leach, P. M. Scarlett, H. D. Wickham, S. A. Harman, L. K Armstrong, J. Davy-Bowker, M. Haft, C. E. Davies

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The water quality of the River Frome, Dorset, southern England, was monitored at weekly intervals from 1965 until 2009. Determinands included phosphorus, nitrogen, silicon, potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, pH, alkalinity and temperature. Nitrate-N concentrations increased from an annual average of 2.4 mg I-1 in the mid to late 1960s to 6.0 mg I-1 in 2008-2009, but the rate of increase was beginning to slow. Annual soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) concentrations increased from 101 μg I-1 in the mid 1960s to a maximum of 190 μg I-1 in 1989. In 2002, there was a step reduction in SRP concentration (average = 88 μg I-1 in 2002-2005), with further improvement in 2007-2009 (average = 49 μg I-1), due to the introduction of phosphorus stripping at sewage treatment works. Phosphorus and nitrate concentrations showed clear annual cycles, related to the timing of inputs from the catchment, and within-stream bioaccumulation and release. Annual depressions in silicon concentration each spring (due to diatom proliferation) reached a maximum between 1980 and 1991, (the period of maximum SRP concentration) indicating that algal biomass had increased within the river. The timing of these silicon depressions was closely related to temperature. Excess carbon dioxide partial pressures (EpCO2) of 60 times atmospheric CO2 were also observed through the winter periods from 1980 to 1992, when phosphorus concentration was greatest, indicating very high respiration rates due to microbial decomposition of this enhanced biomass. Declining phosphorus concentrations since 2002 reduced productivity and algal biomass in the summer, and EpCO2 through the winter, indicating that sewage treatment improvements had improved riverine ecology. Algal blooms were limited by phosphorus, rather than silicon concentration. The value of long-term water quality data sets is discussed. The data from this monitoring programme are made freely available to the wider science community through the CEH data portal (
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3418-3430
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Issue number18
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    Dive into the research topics of 'Changes in water quality of the River Frome (UK) from 1965 to 2009: is phosphorus mitigation finally working?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this