Estimating nitrate retention in a large constructed wetland using high-frequency, continuous monitoring and hydrologic modeling

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Drake, C.
Jones, C.
Schilling, K.
Arenas Amado, A.
Weber, L.
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Iowa Nutrient Research Center
The Iowa Nutrient Research Center was established to pursue science-based approaches to evaluating the performance of current and emerging nutrient management practices and providing recommendations on practice implementation and development. Publications in this digital repository are products of INRC-funded research. The INRC is headquartered at Iowa State University and operates in collaboration with the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa. Additional project information is available at:
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Wetlands are an effective edge-of-field conservation practice for reducing agricultural nitrate loads, but their removal performance varies with hydrologic conditions and other factors difficult to capture with traditional grab sampling schemes. We quantified nitrate retention in a large constructed Iowa wetland using high-frequency (15-min) monitoring and a physically-based hydrologic model that estimated discharge. The objectives were to quantify the wetland nitrate retention and compare to other studies, evaluate the factors important to wetland performance, compare insights gained from low- and high-frequency monitoring, and consider the broader implications of wetland nutrient removal as related to achieving water quality goals associated with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and Gulf Hypoxia. Over a 3-yr monitoring period (May-Nov, 2014-2016), the wetland reduced incoming nitrate concentrations 49% and loads 60 kg/day (0.49 g/m2-wetland/day). Wetland performance was strongly influenced by hydrologic conditions, but variables describing NOx-N supply and biological conditions were also important. Average concentration reductions ranged from 23% in a wet year (2016) to 59-65% in more average climatological years (2014-2015). On a monthly basis, mass retention was highest in Jun and retention efficiencies were highest in Jul and Aug. The high-frequency monitoring captured a greater amount of variability in NOx-N concentrations and wetland retention processes compared to low-frequency monitoring schemes. The retention performance of this wetland indicates 4700~6800 wetlands totaling $1.2-1.8 billion in design and construction costs would be required to reduce the baseline nitrate load in Iowa by 45%, indicating a significant investment in conservation is needed to achieve Gulf Hypoxia water quality goals.
This paper is from Drake, Chad W., Christopher S. Jones, Keith E. Schilling, Antonio Arenas Amado, and Larry J. Weber. 2017. "Estimating nitrate retention in a large constructed wetland using high-frequency, continuous monitoring and hydrologic modeling." 2017 ASABE Annual International Meeting, Paper No. 1700207, pages 1-19 (doi: 10.13031/aim.201700207). St. Joseph, Mich.: ASABE. Posted with permission of INRC.