Water contamination caused by the presence of excessive amounts of nitrate can be catastrophic for aquatic ecosystems and human health. Due to these high risks, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on finding effective measures to reduce nitrate concentrations in rivers and aquifers. In this study, we used the SWAT model based on grid-cells of 5 minutes of resolution for assessing the processes involved in nitrate loads generation and transport into aquifers and rivers and for providing basin management strategies of nitrate reduction. We applied the model in the Po River Basin (Italy), one of the most densely populated and highly agriculturally exploited area in the Mediterranean basin. The model was successfully calibrated and validated in eight monitoring stations along the Po River for the period 2000–2012. Simulated monthly streamflow and nitrate concentrations were in good agreement with observations, obtaining values of bias around ±25% in both calibration and validation. Among the tested scenarios of nitrogen reduction from agricultural sources, red clover cover crop after corn, coupled with a targeted reduction of mineral fertilizers and the limitation of nitrogen manure leads to a reduction of nitrate leaching and nitrogen emissions of around 37%.
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