An Effective Framework For assessing aquatic ECosysTem responses to implementation of the Phosphorous Regulations (EFFECT)

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Resource or Project Abstract

This metadata provides access to the un-proofread full final report for this project. Eutrophication as a result of anthropogenic activity has become a major problem in rivers and lakes. In response, POMs have been implemented that seek to reduce and even reverse eutrophication and its effects through the mitigation of inputs of P and other nutrients. Persistent and considerable uncertainty regarding the suitablity and effectiveness of these measures and of the factors that potentially influence chemical and ecological recovery in rivers and lakes following their implementation provided the context for the EFFECT project. Specifically, and focusing on the Irish Ecoregion, EFFECT sought both to better understand the environmental and other factors that may influence the effectiveness of measures aimed at reducing P and other nutrient inputs, and to determine the surface water quality (rivers, streams and lakes) impacts of implementation of a range of these measures in different geographic settings.
WP1 determined the strength of relationships between environmental conditions and water quality at both large (individual catchment) and small (Irish Ecoregion-wide) scales. The Lough Sheelin catchment in the RoI was selected for the large scale study, which also involved development of a LAM implemented at the level of subcatchment as a means of examining the effectiveness of measures aimed at P mitigation, particularly from point sources. Data for the period 1995-2008 indicated a trend of declining P levels in all subcatchments, while the extent of poorly drained soils, cattle stocking densities and runoff levels were found to have the strongest influence on variability in P concentrations. Malfunctioning septic tank systems in the catchment may also have acted as localised point sources of P. Available data (1990-2008) for Lough Sheelin also suggested that external loadings of P fell following a peak in the early 1990s and remained relatively low to 2008, a period that includes implementation of measures aimed at mitigating P inputs. Despite this, however, P concentrations in the lake remained at early 1990s and higher levels though to 2008. Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha Pallas), established in Lough Sheelin by 2004, may have been responsible for negating water quality effects of reduced external inputs of P.
Two databases were constructed for the small scale exercise contained within WP1. Both databases comprised flow weighted P concentrations for river monitoring sites (fwMRP) for the period 2006-2006: one of the databases contained 49 sites from the RoI only; the other was Irish Ecoregion-wide, comprising 72 sites from both the RoI and NI. Results indicated that the strongest predictors of concentrations of P in rivers in the databases were human population density, extent of artificial surfaces, run off risk, percentage of pasture, density of livestock (cattle) (all positive), mean catchment slope, drainage density, extent of forestry (all negative). Geology (in particular the susceptibility of bedrock to weathering) was also found to influence P concentrations, and was one of several variables considered that had interdependent relationships with other variables, including those relating to human activity. Geostatistical models incorporating the most important environmental predictor variables were constructed to provide a basis for predicting surface water bodies with a high likelihood of being vulnerable to impairment by P or relatively resistant to recovery following reduced inputs of P. The models based on the RoI database, divided into summer and winter periods, had greatest predictive strength. These were independently verified using data from a set of five catchments in the RoI not included in the original analysis.
WP 2 examined the biological and chemical impacts of POMs that have been in place in NI for almost two decades, providing an assessment of the effectiveness of provision of capital grants for the improvement of the management of manures and silage effluent on farms, and the ENMS, intended to reduce P applications to farmland. Specifically WP2 used measured biological and chemical water quality data determined in the 1990s for 42 low-lying streams in two catchments in NI (Colebrooke and Upper Bann) as a baseline for assessing the impacts of POMs in terms of observed water quality during the years 2008-2009. Monitoring of the streams in the 1990s revealed that both biological and chemical water quality declined with increasing farming intensity (expressed as catchment manure nutrient loading rate). By 1998 chemical water quality had improved, although little improvement in BWQ was apparent. Resurvey in 2008-9 of streams surveyed in the 1990s, using the same sample sites and methodology, revealed a continued improvement in chemical water quality. However no consistent improvement in BWQ was evident. At the catchment scale there were some indications that biological water quality may have improved in 2009 relative to the late 1990s. However the changes remained inconclusive. Sites consistently recording low BWQ tended to be those for which chemical water quality had improved least and was most variable. Agricultural intensity explains a significant proportion of the variation in BWQ: generally sites with stocking rates exceeding one dairy cow ha-1 were found to exhibit poor BWQ. Hydromorphological modifications, notably channelisation, may also be important, particularly in the Upper Bann where the invasive amphipod Gammarus pulex (L.) could also have restricted recolonisation and new rural housing and septic tank systems might explain a recent increase in P export. WP3 investigated correlations between riparian measures and water quality and ecological functioning in upland streams in afforested catchments in Co. Fermanagh, NI. Results suggest low levels of correlation between riparian vegetation and macrophyte and invertebrate composition at the study sites, while water chemistry parameters were most strongly correlated with vegetation cover at the catchment scale, in particular the extent of coniferous plantations and peatland. This finding supports the view that catchment-scale characteristics, notably land use, have a greater influence on water quality than the form of relatively narrow strips of riparian vegetation. Results of SI analysis indicated that invertebrate biomass at most sample sites was predominantly derived from terrestrial matter. Moreover, macroinvertebrate community structure did not differ considerably between the sample sites, and thus appeared largely independent of riparian vegetation. Rather the most important correlates again operated largely at the catchment-scale. The degree of light reduction by riparian vegetation and the diversity of stream habitat were also correlated, however. Based in parts of the Blackwater catchment straddling the NI-RoI border (the counties of Armagh, Monaghan and Tyrone), WP 4 evaluated initial impacts on water quality of a voluntary scheme to replace the most defective septic tank systems in an effort to mitigate P from point sources. An initial survey was carried out prior to the replacements being made in 2007, and again following the installation of the new septic tank systems. Results from the Blackwater catchment in Co. Armagh indicate some positive effects on water quality where there was little change in the density of systems. However, in parts of the catchment in counties Monaghan and Tyrone no significant improvements in water quality were evident, and this may reflect overall increases in the total number of septic tank systems due to new builds of rural housing during the survey period (land use change may also have influenced the results). This finding is of particular concern given that the study period also included the implementation of other efforts to mitigate P inputs, notably farm yard improvements and extensive additional fencing to restrict the access of livestock to surface water bodies.

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Contact Information for This Resource

Prof. David Taylor
Trinity College Dublin

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Attachment Name and Download Link
Att 1    DTaylor_EFFECT_prn.pdf.pdf   (2.42 Mb)
Att 2    DTaylor_EFFECT_web.pdf   (1.35 Mb)
Att 3    DTaylor_EFFECT_epr.pdf   (7.64 Mb)

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Author(s)Taylor, D.
Title Of WebsiteSecure Archive For Environmental Research Data
Publication InformationAn Effective Framework For assessing aquatic ECosysTem responses to implementation of the Phosphorous Regulations (EFFECT)
Name of OrganisationEnvironmental Protection Agency Ireland
Electronic Address or URL
Unique Identifierb4dbb60a-00bd-11e2-add7-005056ae0019
Date of AccessLast Updated on SAFER: 2024-06-24

An example of this citation in proper usage:

Taylor, D.   "An Effective Framework For assessing aquatic ECosysTem responses to implementation of the Phosphorous Regulations (EFFECT)". Associated datasets and digitial information objects connected to this resource are available at: Secure Archive For Environmental Research Data (SAFER) managed by Environmental Protection Agency Ireland (Last Accessed: 2024-06-24)


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SAFER-Data Display URL
Resource KeywordsEutrophication anthropogenic activity rivers P aquatic Ecosystem
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project Code2007-W-MS-3-S1
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project ThemeWater Quality
Resource Availability: Any User Can Download Files From This Resource
Limitations on the use of this ResourceAny attached datasets, data files, or information objects can be downloaded for further use in scientific applications under the condition that the source is properly quoted and cited in published papers, journals, websites, presentations, books, etc. Before downloading, users must agree to the "Conditions of Download and Access" from SAFER-Data. These appear before download. Users of the data should also communicate with the original authors/owners of this resource if they are uncertain about any aspect of the data or information provided before further usage.
Number of Attached Files (Publicly and Openly Available for Download): 3
Project Start Date Monday 1st January 2007 (01-01-2007)
Earliest Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Monday 1st January 2007 (01-01-2007)
Most Recent Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Sunday 1st January 2012 (01-01-2012)
Published on SAFERMonday 17th September 2012 (17-09-2012)
Date of Last EditTuesday 18th September 2012 at 11:41:06 (18-09-2012)
Datasets or Files Updated On Tuesday 18th September 2012 at 11:41:06 (18-09-2012)

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Geographical and Spatial Information Related To This Resource

Description of Geographical Characteristics of This Project or Dataset
EFFECT was largely centred upon on four WPs (WPs 1-4) implemented at two different scales of analysis (Irish Ecoregion-wide and catchment/subcatchment specific). WP1 determined the strength of relationships between environmental conditions and water quality and the effectiveness of P Reg related POMs based on data from both NI and RoI. WP 2 examined the biological and chemical impacts of POMs that have been in place in NI for a number of years, providing an assessment of the effectiveness of provision of capital grants for the improvement of the management of manures and silage effluent on farms, and of the ENMS. By comparison, WPs 3 and 4 examined more recent and ongoing POMs. WP3 investigated correlations between riparian measures on water quality and aquatic macrophyte and macroinvertebrate community composition, functioning and recovery in headwater streams in NI following harvesting of coniferous trees. WP 4 evaluated initial impacts on water quality in selected parts of the Blackwater catchment (spanning the border between NI and the RoI) of a mitigation scheme that commenced in 2004/5 to replace the most defective septic tank systems with state of the art equipment. The large scale/small area component of WP1 used TP and MRP (µg l-1) concentration data from seven monitoring stations for the period 1995 to 2008 and the development of a LAM, which was then used to test the efficacy of POMs in the Lough Sheelin catchment. Flow and P data were paired according to date and organised in a database by hydrological year (1st October to 30th September). The database was divided into seven periods (e.g. 1995-1996 ranges from 1st October 1994 to 30th September 1996). Runoff and P concentration data were log-transformed to achieve a normal distribution and to minimise the affect of outliers. WP2 required a re-sampling of the mini-catchment monitoring network that was operational during the 1990s in the Upper Bann and Colebrooke catchments. Re-sampling was therefore designed to be consistent with the original sampling regime with sampling for nutrients, BOD and DO undertaken at 14 day intervals over the course of a year with stream macro-invertebrates being sampled three times per year in spring, summer and autumn. WP3 focused on 25 first or second order streams in upland County Fermanagh, NI. Streams were chosen that were at least 1 km from a regional road. Five categories of stream were sampled and classified into riparian management categories (RMC) according to the managed riparian zone vegetation along the stream reach sampled. WP4 revisits the septic tank systems in the catchment for the Blackwater River, straddling the border between the RoI and NI. The systems were originally surveyed by Arnscheidt et al. (2007) and ranked according to potential impact. Several of the systems were replaced with modern batch reactors and filters following the original survey. Phosphorus concentrations were monitored at high resolution for two years prior and two years subsequent to the improvements; WP4 investigates these data for signals of P change. The study subcatchments were situated in the 1,450 km2 Blackwater River catchment, a cross-border river in counties Tyrone and Armagh (NI) and Monaghan (RoI) (Figure 5.1). The river is also the largest of the six inflowing into the hypertrophic Lough Neagh (383 km2), in NI (Foy et al., 2003). Subcatchments were of a similar size and order; 5 km2 in counties Tyrone and Monaghan and 3 km2 in Co. Armagh and all within 15 km of each other.

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Supplementary Information About This Resource

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Lineage information about this project or dataset
Eutrophication, resulting from over-enrichment by nutrients and in particular P, is a major cause of deteriorating water quality (Smith and Schindler, 2009). Although point sources of P (for example, urban industrial or WWTPs) are important, diffuse sources of P from agriculture have been identified as the main cause of nutrient enrichment in freshwaters (Jennings et al., 2003; Sharpley et al., 2009), and continue to prove a significant challenge to water quality improvement efforts on the island of Ireland (the Irish Ecoregion), where agricultural sources account for 31% of pollution incidents (Kavanagh and Bree, 2009). Over the last two to three decades the proportion of water bodies classed as having moderate quality in Ireland has increased (McGarrigle et al., 2010a), owing to a decline from good status in some and improvements to others previously classed as having poor quality. EFFECT targeted important P Regs- and WFD-relevant knowledge gaps in understanding the factors influencing responses to variations in individual and combined water quality pressures on bodies of surface water in the Irish Ecoregion. The overall aim of the project was to evaluate changes in the chemical and ecological statuses of a sample of rivers and lakes in the Irish Ecoregion since the implementation in the 1990s and subsequently of POMs aimed at reducing P and other nutrient inputs to water bodies. Pollutants such as P have multiple sources within the landscape, both point and diffuse, while the processes governing their mobilisation vary spatially (e.g. as a result of differences in soil properties and land use) and temporally (e.g. due to seasonal variations in rainfall). EFFECT sought to capture this variability while examining a range of different POMs in a variety of environmental settings.
Supplementary Information
Contributing co-authors:
David Taylor, Yvonne McElarney, Sheila Greene, Chris Barry, Bob Foy, Michelle Allen, Phil Jordan, Katrina Macintosh, Joerg Arnscheidt and Sarah Murnaghan
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