Are current phosphorus risk indicators useful to predict the quality of surface waters in Southern Manitoba, Canada?
Received for publication April 6, 2008. Many phosphorus (P) risk indicators have been developed to assess the risk of P loss from agricultural land to surface water. Most of these indicators are designed for land and climates where rainfall-induced erosion of particulate P from sloping landscapes is the main process of P transport. No indicators have been validated in the Canadian Prairies, where P losses are driven by snowmelt-driven runoff over nearly level landscapes and frozen soils. The objective of this project was to evaluate the relationship between water quality data for P from 14 watersheds and three existing P risk indicators for their potential use in the southern Manitoba prairie region of Canada. None of the indicators, including Birr and Mulla's P Index, a preliminary P risk indicator for Manitoba, and a preliminary version of Canada's National Indicator of Risk of Water Contamination by Phosphorus, was significantly correlated with mean concentrations of total P in water or P export per hectare. Although erosion risk was a significant factor influencing the value of these indexes, erosion risk was not correlated with either measure of P loss in these watersheds. Several other watershed characteristics, including average soil test P concentrations, livestock density, proportion of land in annual crops, and the land's inherent capability for agricultural production, were strongly correlated with P concentrations in water (r = 0.80***, r = 0.63**, 0.76***, and -0.70**, respectively). Therefore, these types of P risk indicators require modifications to estimate the risk of P loss under the soil, landscape, and climatic conditions of southern Manitoba.