Successful river water quality modelling requires the specification of an appropriate model structure and process formulation. Both must be related to the compartment structure of running water ecosystems including their longitudinal, vertical, and lateral zonation patterns. Furthermore, the temporal variability of abiotic boundary conditions may be important and must be incorporated by an appropriate choice of model parameters. A six-step decision procedure is proposed to achieve these objectives. The steps address the determination of the following model features: (1) temporal representation (dynamic or steady-state); (2) model dimensionality; (3) mixing; (4) advection; (5) reaction terms; and (6) boundary conditions. Numerical criteria based on process time constants and length scales provide a basis for these decisions.

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