Water quality degradation in the Illinois River Watershed (IRW) has been linked to excess nutrients, primarily phosphorus (P). A mass balance study was performed on the IRW in Oklahoma and Arkansas to quantify the magnitude of P entering the watershed between the closure of Lake Tenkiller’s dam in 1954 to 2006. Results showed that a substantial mass of P was, and is, being imported into the watershed relative to the mass of P leaving the watershed. The study demonstrated that poultry production has been the major contributor of P imported to the watershed since 1964, and is currently responsible for more than 76% of the net annual P additions to the IRW. Between 1949 and 2002, more than 200,000 tonnes of P was added to the IRW. A P delivery ratio for the IRW was computed from the mass balance results and observed loads indicating that 4% of annual P applied to the IRW landscape reached Lake Tenkiller between 1999 and 2006. Allocation of P loads from 1949 to 2002 to Lake Tenkiller computed with the delivery ratio showed that wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) discharges were responsible for more than 50% of P reaching Lake Tenkiller in 1949, followed by dairy cattle (32% of loads). Poultry contribution to P reaching Lake Tenkiller was 5% in 1949 but increased rapidly to become the largest source in 1969 at approximately 49%, and in 2002 at 54%. Both dairy and WWTP portions of the loads declined from 1949 levels with less than 4% attributable to dairy and less than 34% assigned to WWTP in 2002.
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