The ultimate goal of this study is to develop a simple dynamic river water quality model that can be applicable in a data limited situation and is compatible with typical activated sludge models, so that the model can be used in integrated modelling of wastewater and river water quality in the future. A simplified river water quality model was formulated based on a conceptual hydraulic sub-model and simplification of an existing river water quality model. The simplified water quality was derived from the River Water Quality Model No. 1, which is one of the most comprehensive basic river water quality models available in literature. The applicability of the simplified model in data limited situations was investigated using a case study of inorganic nitrogen (nitrate and ammonia) in the Crocodile River (South Africa). The model was calibrated and validated on the basis of independent data collected for four years (1987–1990). The results show that the model can adequately describe the seasonal dynamics of inorganic nitrogen in the Crocodile River. The sensitivity of the model output to the model inputs was also analysed, and the results indicate that the model is most sensitive to the microbial biomass (nitrifier) followed by hydraulic parameters. The relation of river flow versus concentration of inorganic nitrogen in the downstream section of the river was also examined in order to identify the main source and critical time for nitrate pollution.