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Trophic evolution of Lake Lugano related to external load reduction: Changes in phosphorus and nitrogen as well as oxygen balance and biological parameters

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Lake Lugano is located at the border between Italy and Switzerland and is divided into three basins by two narrowings. The geomorphologic characteristics of these basins are very different. The catchment area is characterized by calcareous rock, gneiss and porphyry; the population amounts to approximately 290 000 equivalent inhabitants. The external nutrient load derives from anthropogenic (85%), industrial (10%) and agricultural (5%) sources. The limnological studies carried out by Baldi et al. (1949) and EAWAG (1964) revealed early signs of eutrophication, with a phosphorous concentration of about 30–40 mg m–3 and an oxygen concentration of less than 4 g m–3 in the deepest hypolimnion. Subsequently Vollenweider et al. (1964) confirmed these data and was the first to point out the presence of a meromictic layer in the hypolimnion of the northern basin. From the 1960s, as a result of an increase in the population and internal migration, the lake became strongly eutrophic with the P concentration reaching 140 mg m–3 and the oxygen in the hypolimnion reduced to zero. Fifty-five per cent of the P was from metabolic sources and 45% from detergents and cleaning products. In 1976, a partial diversion of waste water from the northern to the southern basin was begun, and gradually eight waste water treatment plants came into operation using mechanical, chemical and biological treatments. In 1986, Italy and Switzerland began to eliminate the P in detergents and cleaning products. Since 1995, the main sewage treatment plants have improved their efficiency by introducing P post-precipitation, denitrification and filtration treatments. The recovery of the lake is due to be completed by the year 2005. Altogether, during the last 20 years recovery measures have reduced the external P load from about 250 to 70–80 tonnes year–1; the goal to be reached is 40 tonnes year–1. In-lake phosphorous concentrations have decreased from 140 to 50–60 mg m–3, with the target at 30 mg m–3. Dissolved oxygen concentration is satisfactory only between the depths of 0 and 50 m, falling rapidly to zero in the deepest layers. Below a depth of 90 m, high CH4, HS, NH4+, Fe2+ and Mn2+ concentrations exist. Primary production has decreased from 420 to 310 g Cass m–2 year–1, notwithstanding an increase in the thickness of the trophogenic layer. Structure and dynamic biomass show marked changes: phytoplankton dry weight has decreased from 16 to 7 g m–2, while zooplankton dry weight has increased from 3 to 4.5 g m–2. Chlorophyll concentration has fallen from 14 to 9 mg m–3 and Secchi disk transparency has increased from 3.5 to 5.5 m. The current sources of the external load are uncollected small urban conglomerations, storm-water overflows from outfall sewers, and the residual load from sewage treatment plants, particularly those without P post-precipitation.
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Keywords: Lake Lugano; eutrophication; meromixis; nitrogen; oxygen; phosphorous; phytoplankton; zooplankton

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Laboratorio Studi Ambientali – SPAA, Riva Paradiso 15, CH-6900 Paradiso, Switzerland

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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