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J Environ Manage. 2005 Oct;77(2):93-8.

River pollution from non-point sources: a new simplified method of assessment.

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Italian Environmental Protection Agency, Roma-Italy Via Vitaliano Brancati, 48-00144 Roma, Italy.


Assessment of the pollution of water bodies from non-point sources is a complex data- and time-consuming task. The potential non-point pollution index (PNPI), is a new tool designed to assess the global pressure exerted on rivers and other surface water bodies by different land uses. The main feature of PNPI is the wide availability of its input data. Very detailed input maps, often lacking over many areas, are not needed for PNPI calculation. As a consequence of the input data used, the modelling of physical reality and of processes is heavily simplified. The authors counterbalanced such a simplification using an 'expert system' approach. The system bypasses the accurate representation of the physical reality to assess globally the pollution potential of different land uses according to the judgement of scientists. The scientific community proposes many models for depicting the dynamics of pollutants coming from diffuse sources. Most of them can be grouped into two broad categories: statistical models and physically based models. PNPI belongs to neither of the above-mentioned groups. PNPI is a GIS-based, watershed-scale tool designed to inform decision makers and public opinion about the potential environmental impacts of different land management scenarios. PNPI applies the multicriteria technique to pollutant dynamics and water quality. The pressure exerted on water bodies by diffuse pollution coming from land units is expressed as a function of three indicators: land use, run-off and distance from the river network. They are calculated from land use data, geological maps and a digital elevation model (DEM). The weights given to different land uses and to the three indicators were set according to experts' evaluations and allow calculation of the value of the PNPI for each node of a grid representing the watershed; the higher the PNPI of the cell, the greater the potential impact on the river network. The output of the calculation is presented in the form of maps that highlight areas that are more likely to produce pollution. Last, possibilities, strategies and results of the validation of the PNPI are described. In the authors' view, the explicit link between land use and potential pollution on which PNPI is based, together with its high communication potential, make it particularly interesting for a participatory and integrated approach to land management and environmental protection.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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