Nutrient criteria as reference concentrations and trophic state boundaries are necessary for water management worldwide because anthropogenic eutrophication is a threat to the water uses. We compiled data on total phosphorus (TP), nitrogen (TN) and chlorophyll a (Chl a) from 17 subtropical reservoirs monitored from 2005–2009 in the São Paulo State (Brazil) to calculate reference concentrations through the trisection method (United States Environmental Protection Agency). By dividing our dataset into thirds we presented trophic state boundaries and frequency curves for the nutrient levels in water bodies with different enrichment conditions. TP and TN baseline concentrations (0.010 mg/L and 0.350 mg/L, respectively) were bracketed by ranges for temperate reservoirs available in the literature. We propose trophic state boundaries (upper limits for the oligotrophic category: 0.010 mg TP/L, 0.460 mg TN/L and 1.7 μg Chl a/L; for the mesotrophic: 0.030 mg TP/L, 0.820 mg TN/L and 9.0 μg Chl a/L). Through an example with a different dataset (from the Itupararanga Reservoir, Brazil), we encouraged the use of frequency curves to compare data from individual monitoring efforts with the expected concentrations in oligotrophic, mesotrophic and eutrophic regional systems. Such analysis might help designing recovery programs to reach targeted concentrations and mitigate the undesirable eutrophication symptoms in subtropical freshwaters.

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