Using high-frequency phosphorus monitoring for water quality management: a case study of the upper River Itchen, UK

Gary R. Fones, Adil Bakir, Janina Gray, Lauren Mattingley, Nick Measham, Paul Knight, Michael J. Bowes, Richard Greenwood, Graham A. Mills

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Increased concentrations of phosphorus (P) in riverine systems lead to eutrophication and can contribute to other environmental effects. Chalk rivers are known to be particularly sensitive to elevated P levels. We used high-frequency (daily) automatic water sampling at five distinct locations in the upper River Itchen (Hampshire, UK) between May 2016 and June 2017 to identify the main P species (including filterable reactive phosphorus, total filterable phosphorus, total phosphorus and total particulate phosphorus) present and how these varied temporally. Our filterable reactive phosphorus (considered the biologically available fraction) data were compared with the available Environment Agency total reactive phosphorus (TRP) values over the same sampling period. Over the trial, the profiles of the P fractions were complex; the major fraction was total particulate phosphorus with the mean percentage value ranging between 69 and 82% of the total P present. Sources were likely to be attributable to wash off from agricultural activities. At all sites, the FRP and Environment Agency TRP mean concentrations over the study were comparable. However, there were a number of extended time periods (1 to 2 weeks) where the mean FRP concentration (e.g. 0.62 mg L−1) exceeded the existing regulatory values (giving a poor ecological status) for this type of river. Often, these exceedances were missed by the limited regulatory monitoring procedures undertaken by the Environment Agency. There is evidence that these spikes of elevated concentrations of P may have a biological impact on benthic invertebrate (e.g. blue-winged olive mayfly) communities that exist in these ecologically sensitive chalk streams. Further research is required to assess the ecological impact of P and how this might have implications for the development of future environmental regulations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number184
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number3
Early online date18 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • phosphorus
  • nutrient
  • chalk stream
  • water sampling
  • river management


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