• critical-source areas;
  • sub-surface flow;
  • shallow groundwater;
  • saturation-excess runoff;
  • infiltration-excess runoff


We examined the applicability of the critical-source area (CSA) concept to the dairy-grazed 192-ha Upper Toenepi catchment and its 8·7-ha Kiwitahi sub-catchment, New Zealand. We evaluated if phosphorus (P) transport from land into stream is dominated by saturation-excess (SE) and infiltration-excess (IE) runoff during stormflow and by sub-surface (<1·5 m depth) flows during baseflow. We measured stream flow and shallow groundwater levels, collected monthly stream, tile drain (TDA) and groundwater samples, and flow-proportional stream samples from the Kiwitahi sub-catchment, and determined their dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) and total phosphorus (TP) concentrations. In the Kiwitahi sub-catchment, during storm events, IE contributions were significant. Contributions from SE appeared significant in the Upper Toenepi catchment. However, in both catchments, sub-surface contributions dominated stormflow and baseflow periods. Absence of water table at the surface and the water table gradient towards the stream indicated that P transport during events was not limited to surface runoff. The dynamics of the groundwater table and the occurrence of SE areas were influenced by proximity to the stream and hillslope positions. Baseflow accounted for 42% of the annual flow in the Kiwitahi sub-catchment, and contributed 37 and 52% to the DRP and TP loads, respectively. The P transport during baseflow appeared equally important as P losses from CSAs during stormflow. The close resemblance in P levels between groundwater and stream samples during baseflow demonstrates the importance of shallow groundwater for stream flow. In the Upper Toenepi catchment, contributions from effluent ponds (EFFs) dominated P loads. Management strategies should focus on controlling P release from EFFs, and on decreasing Olsen P concentrations in soil to minimize leaching of P via sub-surface flow to streams. Research is needed to quantify the role of sub-surface flow as well as to expand management strategies to minimize P transfers during stormflow and baseflow conditions. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.