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Weather, Landscape, and Management Effects on Nitrate and Soluble Phosphorus Concentrations in Subsurface Drainage in the Western Lake Erie Basin

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

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 61(1): 223-232. (doi: 10.13031/trans.12287) @2018
Authors:   Lindsay A. Pease, Norman R. Fausey, Jay F. Martin, Larry C. Brown
Keywords:   Agriculture, Eutrophication, Nutrient transport, Regression analysis, Water quality.

Abstract. Subsurface drainage, while an important and necessary agricultural production practice in the Midwest, contributes nitrate (NO3-N) and soluble phosphorus (P) to surface waters. Eutrophication (i.e., excessive enrichment of surface water by NO3-N and soluble P) supports harmful algal blooms in receiving waters. The magnitude of NO3-N and soluble P loss in subsurface drainage varies greatly by landscape, weather, and field management factors. This study evaluated both the relative and combined impacts of these factors on observed NO3-N and soluble P concentrations in subsurface drainage water in the Western Lake Erie Basin watershed. Water quality data from multiple drainage outlet sites in northwest Ohio provided evidence that the primary management factors affecting NO3-N and soluble P loss were the amount and time of fertilizer application. Results strongly support following Tri-State fertilizer recommendations and 4R nutrient stewardship principles to reduce the risk of NO3-N and soluble P loss. Results also provided evidence of NO3-N and soluble P transport to subsurface drains via different pathways. Due to differences in NO3-N and soluble P transport through the soil profile (via baseflow and preferential flow, respectively), management approaches taken to reduce one nutrient may exacerbate losses of the other. Further research is needed to address potential changes in field hydrology (and consequently the in-field transport of soluble nutrients) from different types of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) and to evaluate optimal stacking of BMPs to achieve reductions in both NO3-N and soluble P loss. Controlled drainage has a high potential for stacking with other BMPs because it is primarily a physical discharge and load reduction practice.

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