The validity of load estimates from intermittent, instantaneous grab sampling is dependent on adequate spatial coverage by monitoring networks and a sampling frequency that reflects the variability in the system under study. Catchments with a flashy hydrology due to surface runoff pose a particular challenge as intense short duration rainfall events may account for a significant portion of the total diffuse transfer of pollution from soil to water in any hydrological year. This can also be exacerbated by the presence of strong background pollution signals from point sources during low flows. In this paper, a range of sampling methodologies and load estimation techniques are applied to phosphorus data from such a surface water dominated river system, instrumented at three sub-catchments (ranging from 3 to 5 km(2) in area) with near-continuous monitoring stations. Systematic and Monte Carlo approaches were applied to simulate grab sampling using multiple strategies and to calculate an estimated load, Le based on established load estimation methods. Comparison with the actual load, 1, revealed significant average underestimation, of up to 60%, and high variability for all feasible sampling approaches. Further analysis of the time series provides an insight into these observations; revealing peak frequencies and power-law scaling in the distributions of P concentration, discharge and load associated with surface runoff and background transfers. Results indicate that only near-continuous monitoring that reflects the rapid temporal changes in these river systems is adequate for comparative monitoring and evaluation purposes. While the implications of this analysis may be more tenable to small scale flashy systems, this represents an appropriate scale in terms of evaluating catchment mitigation strategies such as agri-environmental policies for managing diffuse P transfers in complex landscapes. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.