Designing river water quality policy interventions with scarce data: the case of the Middle Tagus Basin, Spain

Anthropic pressures deteriorate river water quality, so authorities need to identify their causes and define corrective actions. Physically based water quality models are a useful tool for addressing physicochemical pollutants, but they must be calibrated with an amount of data that is often unavailable. In this study, we explore the characterization of a model to design corrective interventions in a context of sparse data. A calibration indicator that is both simple and flexible is proposed. This approach is applied to the Middle Tagus Basin in central Spain, where the physicochemical concentration of pollutants is above legal standards. We quantify the effects of the main existing pressures (discharge from wastewater treatment plants, agricultural diffuse pollution and a major inter-basin water transfer) on the receiving waters. In particular, the study finds that wastewater treatment plant effluent concentrations should be reduced to up to 0.65 mg/L of ammonium and 0.55 mg/L of phosphate to achieve the environmental goals. We propose and prioritize a set of policy actions that would contribute to the good status of surface water bodies in the region.