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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 4 No. 3, p. 406-412
    Received: Aug 14, 1974

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Nitrate, Phosphorus, and Sulfate in Subsurface Drainage Water1

  1. J. L. Baker,
  2. K. L. Campbell,
  3. H. P. Johnson and
  4. J. J. Hanway2



Measurements made over a 4-year study of flow and NO3-N, PO4-P, total P, and SO4-S content of subsurface drainage water from tile-drained cropland indicate that annual nutrient losses are highly variable. Annual losses of phosphorus, SO4-S, and NO3-N ranged from 0 to 0.04, 0 to 32, and 0 to 93 kg/ha, respectively, being very dependent on the amount of water lost. Because of low concentrations of phosphorus, losses with subsurface drainage water were insignificant when compared with losses associated with surface runoff. Concentrations of SO4-S and NO3-N were seemingly inversely related. Tile drainage water with consistently high NO3-N content relative to surface runoff (> 10 ppm even under the low-fertility management of this study, 224 kg/ha of N over 5 years) is believed responsible for the high NO3-N content sometimes found in a river draining central Iowa. The nitrate content of water from the saturated and unsaturated zones of the soil profile indicates that waves or pulses of water, with different NO3-N concentrations, moving through the soil profile cause the observed variation of NO3-N content of subsurface drainage water with time and flow rate. Such variations illustrate the difficulty of identifying water-quality trends from limited data.

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