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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 29 No. 6, p. 1846-1851
    Received: Feb 7, 2000

    * Corresponding author(s): kschilling@igsb.uiowa.edu
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The Relationship of Nitrate Concentrations in Streams to Row Crop Land Use in Iowa

  1. Keith E. Schilling * and
  2. Robert D. Libra
  1. Iowa Dep. of Natural Resources, Geological Survey Bureau, Iowa City, IA 52242-1319.



The relationship between row crop land use and nitrate N concentrations in surface water was evaluated for 15 Iowa watersheds ranging from 1002 to 2774 km2 and 10 smaller watersheds ranging from 47 to 775 km2 for the period 1996 to 1998. The percentage of land in row crop varied from 24 to >87% in the 15 large watersheds, and mean annual NO3-N concentrations ranged from 0.5 to 10.8 mg/L. In the small watersheds, row crop percentage varied from 28 to 87% and mean annual NO3-N concentrations ranged from 3.0 to 10.5 mg/L. In both cases, nitrate N concentrations were directly related to the percentage of row crop in the watershed (p < 0.0003). Linear regression showed similar slope for both sets of watersheds (0.11) suggesting that average annual sudace water nitrate concentrations in Iowa, and possibly similar agricultural areas in the midwestern USA, can be approximated by multiplying a watershed's row crop percentage by 0.1. Comparing the Iowa watershed data with similar data collected at a subwatershed scale in Iowa (0.1 to 8.1 km2) and a larger midcontinent scale (7300 to 237 100 km2) suggests that watershed scale affects the relationship of nitrate concentration and land use. The slope of nitrate concentration versus row crop percentage decreases with increasing watershed size.

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