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Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Paper number  701P0304,  . (doi: 10.13031/2013.15711)
Authors:   J.L. Baker, S.W. Melvin, D.W. Lemke, P.A. Lawlor, W.G. Crumpton, and M.J. Helmers

It is estimated that there are approximately 3.6 million ha of land with artificial subsurface drainage in Iowa, with 2.4 million ha of that within the 3000 organized drainage districts (total land area of the state is 14.6 million ha). This drainage has made otherwise wet soils very productive. Much of this drainage was installed early last century and is reaching the end of its service life. One challenge will be the repair/replacement of these drainage systems. Because subsurface drainage short circuits some infiltrating water back to surface water resources, there is also a water quality challenge. Research has shown that during rainfall-runoff events, the presence of artificial subsurface drainage generally delays and reduces the volume of surface runoff. Therefore, total losses of sediment, phosphorus, ammonium-nitrogen, pesticides, and micro-organisms are decreased with subsurface drainage. However, nitrate-nitrogen leaching is increased with subsurface drainage water, and has been implicated as a major factor relative to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Research has identified several factors relative to soils, weather, and management (cropping, tillage, chemical application practices, and drainage parameters) that influence the nitrate-nitrogen leaching problem. This will be discussed along with implications for possible changes in the drainage systems and land management that may be needed to sustain production while reducing nitrate-nitrogen losses.

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