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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Groundwater Quality

Nitrate Leaching in Californian Rice Fields: A Field- and Regional-Scale Assessment


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 43 No. 3, p. 881-894
    Received: Oct 03, 2013
    Published: June 24, 2014

    * Corresponding author(s): liang410@zju.edu.cn
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  1. X. Q. Liang *a,
  2. T. Harterb,
  3. L. Portac,
  4. C. van Kesseld and
  5. B. A. Linquistd
  1. a Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, College of Environmental and Resource Sciences, Zhejiang Univ,, Hangzhou 310058, China
    b Dep. of Land, Air, and Water Resources, Univ, of California, Davis, CA, 95616
    c CH2MHILL, 2485 Natomas Park Drive, Sacramento, CA 95833
    d Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA 95616


Irrigated croplands can be a major source of nitrate-N (NO3–N) in groundwater due to leaching. In California, where high NO3–N levels have been found in some areas of the Central Valley aquifer, the contribution from rice systems has not been determined. Nitrate leaching from rice systems was evaluated from soil cores (0–2 m), from the fate of 15N fertilizer in replicated microplots, and from about 145 regional groundwater wells. Soil NO3–N concentrations were ≤3.3 mg kg−1 (usually <1 mg kg−1) below the root zone (below 33 cm depth). In pore-water samples, NO3–N was observed only below the root zone during the first 2 wk after the onset of flooding in either the growing season or the winter fallow period and was always ≤8.4 mg L–1. Fertilizer 15N accounted for 0 to 11.8% of NO3–N in pore-water samples below the root zone. One year after application, based on an analysis of soil core samples, on average 2.5% of fertilizer N was recovered as 15N below the root zone (33–100 cm), possibly due to leaching in permeable soils or via preferential flow through cracks in heavy clay soils. Based on a regional assessment, groundwater samples from wells that are located in proximity to rice fields all had measured median NO2–N and NO3–N levels below 1 mg L−1. These results indicate that NO3–N leaching from the majority of California rice systems poses little risk to groundwater under current crop management practices.

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