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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Ground Water Quality

Nitrate and Chloride Loading to Groundwater from an Irrigated North-Central U.S. Sand-Plain Vegetable Field


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 30 No. 4, p. 1176-1184
    Received: June 15, 2001

    * Corresponding author(s): wstites@coredcs.com
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  1. W. Stites * and
  2. G.J. Kraft
  1. Central Wisconsin Groundwater Center, 1900 Franklin St., Univ. of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, WI 54481


Groundwater pollution and associated effects on drinking water have increased with the expansion of irrigated agriculture in north-central U.S. sand plains. Controlling this pollution requires an ability to measure and predict pollutant loading by specific agricultural systems. We measured NO3 and Cl loading to groundwater beneath a Wisconsin central sand plain irrigated vegetable field using both a budget method and a new monitoring-based method. By relying on frequent monitoring of shallow groundwater, the new method overcomes some limitations of other methods. Monitoring-based and budget methods agreed well, and indicated that loading to groundwater was 165 kg ha−1 NO3–N and 111 kg ha−1 Cl for sweet corn (Zea mays L.) in 1992, and 228 kg ha−1 NO3–N and 366 kg ha−1 Cl for potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) in 1993. Nitrate N loading was 56 to 60% of available N, or 66 to 70% of fertilizer N. Sweet corn NO3 loading was about typical for this region, but potato NO3 loading was probably 50% greater than typical because heavy rains provoked extra fertilizer application. Our results imply that typical NO3–N loading would be 119 kg ha−1 for sweet corn and 203 kg ha−1 for potato, even with strict adherence to University Extension fertilizer recommendations. To keep average groundwater NO3–N within the 10 mg L−1 U.S. drinking water standard, each irrigated vegetable field would need to be offset by five to eight times as much land supplying NO3–free groundwater recharge.

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Copyright © 2001. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science SocietyPublished in J. Environ. Qual.30:1176–1184.