Water quality modelling is of crucial importance for the assessment of physical, chemical, and biological changes in water bodies. Mathematical approaches to water modelling have become more prevalent over recent years. Different model types ranging from detailed physical models to simplified conceptual models are available. Actually, a possible middle ground between detailed and simplified models may be parsimonious models that represent the simplest approach that fits the application. The appropriate modelling approach depends on the research goal as well as on data available for correct model application. When there is inadequate data, it is mandatory to focus on a simple river water quality model rather than detailed ones. The study presents a parsimonious river water quality model to evaluate the propagation of pollutants in natural rivers. The model is made up of two sub-models: a quantity one and a quality one. The model employs a river schematisation that considers different stretches according to the geometric characteristics and to the gradient of the river bed. Each stretch is represented with a conceptual model of a series of linear channels and reservoirs. The channels determine the delay in the pollution wave and the reservoirs cause its dispersion. To assess the river water quality, the model employs four state variables: DO, BOD, NH4, and NO. The model was applied to the Savena River (Italy), which is the focus of a European-financed project in which quantity and quality data were gathered. A sensitivity analysis of the model output to the model input or parameters was done based on the Generalised Likelihood Uncertainty Estimation methodology. The results demonstrate the suitability of such a model as a tool for river water quality management.

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