1. The ability of hyporheic sediments to exchange water and retain ammonium and phosphate in the Riera Major stream ,North-East Spain, under different discharge conditions was measured by conducting short-term nutrient and chloride additions.
2. The mean exchange coefficients from free-flowing water to the storage zone (k1) and vice versa (k2) were 0.82 × 10–4 s−−1 and 7 × 10−−3 s−−1, respectively. The ratio of storage zone cross-sectional area to stream cross-sectional area (AS/A) averaged 2.8 × 10–2 and was negatively correlated with discharge (r = –0.85, d.f. = 13, P < 0.001).
3. The percentage of hyporheic zone water which came from surface water varied as a function of discharge and hyporheic depth, ranging between 33% and 95% at 25 cm depth, and between 78% and 100% at 10 cm depth.
4. The nutrient retention efficiency in the hyporheic zone at 10 cm depth measured as uptake length (Swh) was less than 3.3 cm for ammonium and 37 cm for phosphate. Higher nutrient retentions were measured in the sediments at 10 cm depth than at 25 cm, indicating that near-surface sediments were involved more actively in phosphate retention than the deeper hyporheic sediments. The lack of ammonium at any depth of the hyporheic zone showed that ammonium was very rapidly taken up in the surfacial sediments.