Integrated Drainage-Wetland Systems for Reducing Nitrate Loads from Tile Drained Landscapes

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Crumpton, William
Helmers, Matthew
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

In addition to raising local water quality concerns, nitrate loads from Midwest agriculture are suspected as a primary contributor to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Over-application of fertilizer can exacerbate the problem, but the major causes are hydrological and land-use changes that came with tile drainage. Subsurface drainage creates very productive croplands and reduces water quality problems associated with surface runoff, but subsurface flow and nitrate transport are substantially increased. A permanent solution to the environmental problem of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico will likely require more than improved nitrogen management and tillage practices. We present results of simulations integrating nitrate-removal wetlands, as a proven technology, with the emerging technologies of drainage modification. Relatively small areas of wetlands intercepting tile drainage can remove over 50% of the nitrate in tile drainage water. Controlled drainage and shallow drainage can reduce subsurface flow and nitrate export by as much as 50%. The integration of shallow and controlled drainage systems with nitrate-removal wetlands has the potential to simultaneously decrease the volume of subsurface drainage, increase the number of wetland sites, push those sites closer to the nitrate source, and enhance wetland performance by increasing the average residence time in the wetlands.


This abstract is from Pp 7 in Self-Sustaining Solutions for Streams, Wetlands, and Watersheds (12-15 September 2004, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA), ed. J. L. D'Ambrosio. St. Joseph, Michigan: ASAE. ,Pub. Date 12 September 2004 . ASAE Pub #701P0504.

Thu Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2004