Dissolved Constituents in Agricultural Drainage Waters

Zimmerman, Brett
Kaleita, Amy
Kaleita, Amy
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Efflux of dissolved solutes in agricultural subsurface drainage systems adversely affects the ecosystems of receiving waters, degrades soil fertility, and represents an economic loss to farmers. These solutes are frequently studied without regard to their associated ions, which play a fundamental role in their transport characteristics. In this study, we conducted a literature review to identify major dissolved constituents in agricultural drainage waters characteristic of central Iowa and pinpointed causes of variability in the leaching rate of these constituents. This literature review is complemented by a thorough field investigation that analyzes major solute concentrations with respect to seasonal conditions, common cropping systems, and relationships among ions. Results from this investigation reveal that primary dissolved constituents consist of bicarbonate, calcium, nitrate, magnesium, chloride, sodium, and sulfate (in order of decreasing ppm concentration). Analysis of seasonal drainage samples showed that bicarbonate, calcium, and magnesium were present at greater concentrations during the post-growing season, while nitrate and chloride concentrations were greatest during the growing season. Seasonal variability of sulfate and sodium was negligible. Continuous corn and corn in annual rotation with soybeans had greater magnesium and chloride concentrations than soybeans in annual rotation with corn. Conversely, calcium concentrations were greater for soybean cropping systems compared to corn cropping systems. Bicarbonate and nitrate were not significantly different among any of the cropping systems. A strong correlation between bicarbonate and calcium suggests that agricultural lime dissolution was caused by mineral weathering, rather than by acidification due to N fertilizer applications or nitrification. An analysis of observed drainage flows, pH, and temperatures suggested that these parameters were not good indicators of differences in ionic composition.


This article is from Transactions of the ASABE 60(3): 847-859 (doi: 10.13031/trans.12051). Posted with permission.