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Dynamics of phosphorus exchange between sediment and water in a gravel-bed river

March 2020

Publication: New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Science
Author(s): R. Wilcock, RW. McDowell, J. Quinn, K. Rutherford, R. Young, C. Depree

Phosphorus (P) stores in gravel-bed rivers are released for uptake by periphyton when pH levels exceed 8.5. The Tukituki River has low alkalinity water and frequently experiences periphyton blooms, and daytime pH > 9 during summer low-flows. We measured dissolved reactive P (DRP) and EPC0, the water concentration of DRP at which no net release or sorption from the river bed occurs, in sediment samples from the Tukituki River subject to controlled pH levels before (2014) and after (2017) changes to two wastewater discharges that reduced P release to the river by 95%. DRP released from 2014 sediments at pH 8.5–10 were 30 ¬± 10 mg/m3 above background (pH 8) whereas those released from 2017 sediments were 5 ¬± 3 mg/m3 above background. EPC0 levels in 2014 and 2017 were 11 ¬± 6 and 7 ¬± 2 mg/m3, respectively. Field estimates of released DRP calculated from continuous pH and the Redfield equation suggested that most of the readily available DRP released from sediments at elevated pH is derived from material attached to recently deposited sediment. Subsequently, a reduction in wastewater inputs or agricultural runoff should reduce sediment DRP stores, and hence sediment fluxes, within a few years and mitigate periphyton blooms in addition to directly lowering water column concentrations.

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