Fit-for-purpose phosphorus management: do riparian buffers qualify in catchments with sandy soils?

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Environmental Monitoring and Assessment


Sediment, Riparian buffers, Soluble phosphorus, Filterable reactive phosphorus, Leaching, Subsurface flow


Hillslope runoff and leaching studies, catchment-scale water quality measurements and P retention and release characteristics of stream bank and catchment soils were used to better understand reasons behind the reported ineffectiveness of riparian buffers for phosphorus (P) management in catchments with sandy soils from south-west Western Australia (WA). Catchment-scale water quality measurements of 60 % particulate P (PP) suggest that riparian buffers should improve water quality; however, runoff and leaching studies show 20 times more water and 2 to 3 orders of magnitude more P are transported through leaching than runoff processes. The ratio of filterable reactive P (FRP) to total P (TP) in surface runoff from the plots was 60 %, and when combined with leachate, 96 to 99 % of P lost from hillslopes was FRP, in contrast with 40 % measured as FRP at the large catchment scale. Measurements of the P retention and release characteristics of catchment soils (<2 mm) compared with stream bank soil (<2 mm) and the <75-μm fraction of stream bank soils suggest that catchment soils contain more P, are more P saturated and are significantly more likely to deliver FRP and TP in excess of water quality targets than stream bank soils. Stream bank soils are much more likely to retain P than contribute P to streams, and the in-stream mixing of FRP from the landscape with particulates from stream banks or stream beds is a potential mechanism to explain the change in P form from hillslopes (96 to 99 % FRP) to large catchments (40 % FRP). When considered in the context of previous work reporting that riparian buffers were ineffective for P management in this environment, these studies reinforce the notion that (1) riparian buffers are unlikely to provide fit-for-purpose P management in catchments with sandy soils, (2) most P delivered to streams in sandy soil catchments is FRP and travels via subsurface and leaching pathways and (3) large catchment-scale water quality measurements are not good indicators of hillslope P mobilisation and transport processes.