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Development of a national-scale framework to characterise transfers of N, P and Escherichia coli from land to water.

Abstract

A hydrological framework encompassing nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and microbial (E. coli) transfer from land to water was developed to provide a consistent and rapid approach for assessing the potential impacts of land activity on water quality in New Zealand. A flow partition approach was used to route precipitation via surface and subsurface pathways from land to water. The framework included a typology-based inventory that estimates annual yields of transportable N and P from land, a regional-scale spatial layer that attenuates N in groundwater, and literature-based estimates of E. coli concentrations in surface runoff and artificial drainage. Application of the framework in four catchments highlighted the importance of local catchment knowledge of dominant hydrological processes that was needed to ensure flow partitions derived were a realistic representation of transport processes. While the approach was promising, additional refinements are needed to improve process representation (e.g. effects of groundwater lags) and ensure input data (e.g. soil attributes) have appropriate resolution to describe hydrological pathways. We contend that such a framework would provide a consistent and relatively rapid approach for identifying contaminant transfer pathways from land to water that can inform assessments of the potential consequences of land use change and intensification.

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