Since the late 1980s, the use of commercial fertilisers in most Eastern European countries has decreased at an unprecedented rate. We examined the impact of this dramatic reduction in agricultural inputs on concentrations of nutrients in four rivers in Eastern Europe: the Emajogi and Õhnejogi (Estonia), the Daugava (Latvia), and the Tisza (Hungary). Time series of nitrate (NO3-N) and phosphate (PO4-P) concentrations and data on runoff were selected to represent catchments with substantial areas of agricultural land and available time series of sufficient length and frequency. The study period was 1987-1998. We detected downward trends in nitrate-N and phosphate-P in only two of the four rivers. Our results imply that the response to the extensive decrease in agricultural intensity since the late 1980s has been slow and limited in many rivers. Corresponding results in the literature are inconclusive and comprise several examples of both decreasing and non-decreasing nutrient concentrations. Our findings, along with similar data from other studies, indicate that large cuts in nutrient inputs do not necessarily induce an immediate response, particularly in medium-sized and large catchment areas. Moreover, the difference we noted between nitrogen and phosphorus suggests that factors other than reduced fertiliser application influenced the inertia of the water quality response.

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