Prediction of future nitrogen loading to Lake Rotorua

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SR_2006-010-pdf
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Morgenstern, U.; Gordon, D. 2006 Prediction of future nitrogen loading to Lake Rotorua. Lower Hutt, N.Z.: GNS Science. GNS Science report 2006/10 23 p.

Abstract: Groundwater that feeds streams and springs in the Lake Rotorua catchment has 15-130 years mean residence times in the aquifer. These long residence times of the water in the ground result in large time-delays of nitrogen loading from historical agricultural and urban development in the catchment. Currently observed increases in nitrogen loading in surface and groundwater are mostly due to the delayed impact of catchment development that occurred around 55 years ago. Further increases in nitrogen are expected. The time-dependence of the arrival of water to the lake that was recharged since landuse development in the 1950's was calculated using the age distribution of the water derived from tritium, CFC and SF6 data. The arrival of post-landuse water over time was then used to estimate the nitrogen load to the lake for the time prior to landuse development, for the time since then, and for the future. Excellent matches between measured N loads over the last decades and predicted loads demonstrate the robustness of the approach, and that the model assumptions used for future predictions are reasonable. Future groundwater-derived nutrient loads are listed below. No changes are expected in phosphorus loads via groundwater as long as landuse-derived P continues to be absorbed by the volcanic soils in the catchment. The nitrogen loading to Lake Rotorua prior to major landuse development in the catchment in the 1950’s was calculated to be 60 t/year. This has slowly increased to a present nitrogen load of 420 t/y, delayed by long travel times of the groundwater. The nitrogen loading is expected to further increase to 532 t/y in 50 years (25% increase from current), 572 t/y in 100 years (35% increase from current), and to 619 t/y at steady-state (47% increase from current). About 75% of the groundwater-derived nitrogen loading at steady-state enters Lake Rotorua via the nine major streams, and about 20% enters the lake from direct groundwater inflow to the lake bed. The loading estimate for the direct groundwater has the largest uncertainty because very limited age and chemistry data is available. Lake side springs and minor streams together contribute only about 5% of the total nitrogen load to Lake Rotorua. Hamurana, Awahou and Waingaehe streams are expected to show the largest increases in N loading in the future because they contain the oldest water, and Hamurana and Awahou streams will have the largest increase in nitrogen mass loading because they have the largest flow. Utuhina, Waiteti, and Puarenga streams are expected to have medium increases in nitrogen loading because of younger water age and lower flow. Ngongotaha, Waiohewa, and Waiowhiro streams are expected to have little further increase in N loading because of low flow or steady-state already reached. Landuse intensification that has occurred within the last 20 years is not yet reflected in the current nitrogen prediction model because information on the timing and amount of inte nsification was not yet available. The present nitrogen prediction model assumes that the nitrogen input in the catchment from landuse development has remained relatively constant since the 1950's. The current predictions would therefore represent a lower limit to which the more recent nitrogen loads would have to be added. If more information on timing and amount of landuse changes becomes available, the N load predictions can be refined to incorporate landuse change in several stages by calculating the predicted N load for each stage and adding these. Positive (intensification) or negative (retirement) changes can be considered. The large groundwater system of the Lake Rotorua catchment responds delayed by decades to landuse changes. These timeframes will need to be considered carefully for any possible mitigation options in the catchment. (auth)