Effects of watershed and riparian zone characteristics on nutrient concentrations in the River Scheldt Basin
The relative influence of a set of watershed characteristics on surface water nutrient concentrations was examined in 173 watersheds within two subcatchments (Upper-Scheldt and Nete) of the River Scheldt Basin (Flanders, Belgium). Each watershed was described by seasonal rainfall, discharge loading of point sources, morphological characteristics (area, average slope, drainage density, elongation), land use and soil properties (soil texture and drainage). Partial regression analysis revealed that soil drainage variables had the strongest influence on nutrient concentrations. Additional influence was exerted by land use and point source loading variables. Nitrate concentrations were positively correlated with effluent loadings coming from wastewater treatment plants and with the area of agricultural land. Phosphate concentrations were best explained by effluent loadings of industrial point sources and by the area of urban land. Land use close to the river was not a better predictor of nitrate and phosphate concentrations than land use away from the river. This suggests that the mediating impact of riparian zones is rather explained by the hydrologic pathways within the buffer strip.