Assessing the effect of nutrient mitigation measures in the watersheds of the Southern Bight of the North Sea

Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsThieu, V, Garnier, J, Billen, G
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Pagination1245 - 1255
Mots-clésSeneque-Riverstrahler model

The Seine, Somme, and Scheldt Rivers (France, Belgium, and Netherlands) are the major delivering rivers flowing into the continental coastal zone of the Southern Bight of the North Sea, an area regularly affected by eutrophication problems. In the present work, the Seneque-Riverstrahler model was implemented in a multi-regional case study in order to test several planned mitigation measures aimed at limiting stream nutrient contamination and restoring balanced nutrient ratios at the coastal zone. This modeling approach, which is spatially distributed at the basin scale, allows assessing the impact of any change in human activities, which widely differ over the three basins. Here, we define realistic scenarios based on currently proposed measures to reduce point and non-point sources, such as the upgrading of wastewater treatment, the introduction of catch crops, and the development of extensive farming. An analysis of the current situation showed that a 47-72% reduction in P point-source emissions within the three basins could be reached if the intended P treatment was generalized to the largest treatment plants. However, only an overall 14-23% reduction in N could be achieved at the outlet of the three basins, by combining improved wastewater treatment and land use with management measures aimed at regulating agricultural practices. Nonetheless, in spite of these efforts, N will still be exported in large excess with respect to the equilibrium defined by the Redfield ratios, even in the most optimistic hypothesis describing the long-term response of groundwater nitrate concentrations. A comprehensive assessment of these mitigation measures supports the need for additional reductions of nutrient losses from agriculture to control harmful algae development. It also stresses the relevance of this mechanistic approach, in which nutrient transfers from land to sea can be calculated, as an integrated strategy to test policy recommendations.