Assessing Coastal Plain risk indices for subsurface Phosphorus loss

Amy L. Shober, Anthony R. Buda, Kathryn C. Turner, Nicole M. Fiorellino, A. Scott Andres, Joshua M. McGrath, J. Thomas Sims

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Phosphorus (P) Index evaluations are critical to advancing nutrient management planning in the United States. However, most assessments until now have focused on the risks of P losses in surface runoff. In artificially drained agroecosystems of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, subsurface flow is the predominant mode of P transport, but its representation in most P Indices is often inadequate. We explored methods to evaluate the subsurface P risk routines of five P Indices from Delaware, Maryland (two), Virginia, and North Carolina using available water quality and soils datasets. Relationships between subsurface P risk scores and published dissolved P loads in leachate (Delaware, Maryland, and North Carolina) and ditch drainage (Maryland) were directionally correct and often statistically significant, yet the brevity of the observation periods (weeks to several years) and the limited number of sampling locations precluded a more robust assessment of each P Index. Given the paucity of measured P loss data, we then showed that soil water extractable P concentrations at depths corresponding with the seasonal high water table (WEPWT) could serve as a realistic proxy for subsurface P losses in ditch drainage. The associations between WEPWT and subsurface P risk ratings reasonably mirrored those obtained with sparser water quality data. As such, WEPWT is seen as a valuable metric that offers interim insight into the directionality of subsurface P risk scores when water quality data are inaccessible. In the long term, improved monitoring and modeling of subsurface P losses clearly should enhance the rigor of future P Index appraisals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1270-1286
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America. 5585 Guilford Rd., Madison, WI 53711 USA.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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