The U.S. EPA QUAL2E model is currently the standard for river water quality modelling. While QUAL2E is adequate for the regulatory situation for which it was developed (the U.S. wasteload allocation process), there is a need for a more comprehensive framework for research and teaching. Moreover, QUAL2E and similar models do not address a number of practical problems such as stormwater-flow events, nonpoint source pollution, and transient streamflow. Limitations in model formulation affect the ability to close mass balances, to represent sessile bacteria and other benthic processes, and to achieve robust model calibration. Mass balance problems arise from failure to account for mass in the sediment as well as in the water column and due to the fundamental imprecision of BOD as a state variable. (C) 1998 IAWQ Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.