A spatial and seasonal assessment of river water chemistry across North West England

J. J. Rothwell, N. B. Dise, K. G. Taylor, T. E H Allott, P. Scholefield, H. Davies, C. Neal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents information on the spatial and seasonal patterns of river water chemistry at approximately 800 sites in North West England based on data from the Environment Agency regional monitoring programme. Within a GIS framework, the linkages between average water chemistry (pH, sulphate, base cations, nutrients and metals) catchment characteristics (topography, land cover, soil hydrology, base flow index and geology), rainfall, deposition chemistry and geo-spatial information on discharge consents (point sources) are examined. Water quality maps reveal that there is a clear distinction between the uplands and lowlands. Upland waters are acidic and have low concentrations of base cations, explained by background geological sources and land cover. Localised high concentrations of metals occur in areas of the Cumbrian Fells which are subjected to mining effluent inputs. Nutrient concentrations are low in the uplands with the exception sites receiving effluent inputs from rural point sources. In the lowlands, both past and present human activities have a major impact on river water chemistry, especially in the urban and industrial heartlands of Greater Manchester, south Lancashire and Merseyside. Over 40% of the sites have average orthophosphate concentrations > 0.1 mg-P l- 1. Results suggest that the dominant control on orthophosphate concentrations is point source contributions from sewage effluent inputs. Diffuse agricultural sources are also important, although this influence is masked by the impact of point sources. Average nitrate concentrations are linked to the coverage of arable land, although sewage effluent inputs have a significant effect on nitrate concentrations. Metal concentrations in the lowlands are linked to diffuse and point sources. The study demonstrates that point sources, as well as diffuse sources, need to be considered when targeting measures for the effective reduction in river nutrient concentrations. This issue is clearly important with regards to the European Union Water Framework Directive, eutrophication and river water quality. © 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)841-855
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2010


  • Catchment
  • Diffuse source
  • GIS
  • Metals
  • Nitrate
  • Nutrients
  • Orthophosphate
  • Point source


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