This paper draws on lessons from a UK case study in the management of diffuse microbial pollution from grassland farm systems in the Taw catchment, south west England. We report on the development and preliminary testing of a field-scale faecal indicator organism risk indexing tool (FIORIT). This tool aims to prioritise those fields most vulnerable in terms of their risk of contributing FIOs to water. FIORIT risk indices were related to recorded microbial water quality parameters (faecal coliforms [FC] and intestinal enterococci [IE]) to provide a concurrent on-farm evaluation of the tool. There was a significant upward trend in Log[FC] and Log[IE] values with FIORIT risk score classification (r2 =0.87 and 0.70, respectively and P<0.01 for both FIOs). The FIORIT was then applied to 162 representative grassland fields through different seasons for ten farms in the case study catchment to determine the distribution of on-farm spatial and temporal risk. The high risk fields made up only a small proportion (1%, 2%, 2% and 3% for winter, spring, summer and autumn, respectively) of the total number of fields assessed (and less than 10% of the total area), but the likelihood of the hydrological connection of high FIO source areas to receiving watercourses makes them a priority for mitigation efforts. The FIORIT provides a preliminary and evolving mechanism through which we can combine risk assessment with risk communication to end-users and provides a framework for prioritising future empirical research. Continued testing of FIORIT across different geographical areas under both low and high flow conditions is now needed to initiate its long term development into a robust indexing tool.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Environmental Modelling and Software 25 (4), 2010, © ELSEVIER.