A modelling study has been undertaken to investigate long-term changes in surface water quality in two contrasting forested catchments; Yli-Knuutila, with high concentrations of base cations and sulphate, in southern Finland; and organically rich, acid Liuhapuro in eastern Finland. The MAGIC model is based on the assumption that certain chemical processes (anion retention, cation exchange, primary mineral weathering, aluminium dissolution and CO2 solubility) in catchment soils are likely keys to the responses of surface water quality to acidic deposition. The model was applied for the first time to an organically rich catchment with high quantities of humic substances. The historical reconstruction of water quality at Yli-Knuutila indicates that the catchment surface waters have lost about 90 μeq l−1 of alkalinity in 140 years, which is about 60% of their preacidification alkalinity. The model reproduces the declining pH levels of recent decades as indicated by paleoecological analysis. Stream acidity trends are investigated assuming two scenarios for future deposition. Assuming deposition rates are maintained in the future at 1984 levels, the model indicates that stream pH is likely to continue to decline below presently measured levels. A 50% reduction in deposition rates would likely result in an increase in pH and alkalinity of the stream, although not to estimated preacidification levels. Because of the high load of organic acids to the Liuhapuro stream it has been acid before atmospheric pollution; a decline of 0.2 pH-units was estimated with increasing leaching of base cations from the soil despite the partial pH buffering of the system by organic compounds.