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Background The eutrophication of aquatic systems due to diffuse pollution of agricultural phosphorus (P) is a local, even regional, water quality problem that can be found world-wide. 
Scope Sustainable management of P requires prudent tempering of agronomic practices, recognizing that additional steps are often required to reduce the downstream impacts of most production systems. 
Conclusions Strategies to mitigate diffuse losses of P must consider chronic (edaphic) and acute, temporary (fertilizer, manure, vegetation) sources. Even then, hydrology can readily convert modest sources into significant loads, including via subsurface pathways. long-term over-application of P to soils, are the most recalcitrant causes of diffuse P loss. Even in systems where P application is in balance with withdrawal, diffuse pollution can be exacerbated by management systems that promote accumulation of P within the effective layer of effective interaction between soils and runoff water. Indeed, conventional conservation practices aimed at controlling soil erosion must be evaluated in light of their ability to exacerbate dissolved P pollution. Understanding the opportunities and limitations of P management strategies is essential to ensure that water quality expectations are realistic and that our beneficial management practices are both efficient and effective.