This study was conducted to elucidate the long-term effect of dewatered sludge application on a silty clay loam soil, which possesses poor permeability and other undesirable physical properties. A Zimpro®-processed dewatered sludge was applied in early 1977 at treatment rates of 0, 11.2, 22.4, 44.8, and 112.0 Mg ha−1 (dry solids basis) to a Kewaunee silty clay loam soil (Typic Hapludalf). A sixth treatment was an annual application of 22.4 Mg ha−1 from 1977 to 1982, resulting in a total input of 134.4 Mg ha−1.
Bulk density, infiltration, hydraulic conductivity, and aggregate stability were measured $ yr after application (note: fifth year of annual sludge application at 22.4 Mg ha−1). The bulk density decreased by 0, 0.7, 3.5, 8.3, and 6.3% over the control for the 11.2, 22.4, 44.8, 112.0, and 134.4 Mg ha−1 of sludge treatment, respectively. The hydraulic conductivities of saturated soil cores were 0, 4.2, 45.4, 70.2, and 70.6% higher for the 11.2, 22.4, 44.8, 112.0, and 134.4 Mg ha−1 sludge treatment, respectively, over the control. The improved soil permeability was due to the enhancement of aggregate stability, which increased relative to the control by 3.3, 9.4, and 11.9% with the 44.8, 112.0, and 134.4 Mg ha−1 treatment, respectively. The in situ volumetric moisture content of the sludge-treated soils was always higher than the control, especially after a prolonged period of evaporation. At 33.3 kPa or less, more water was released from soils treated with high rates of sludges. This indicated an increase in the volume of larger pores, which resulted in the higher hydraulic conductivities.
Lower rates of sludge treatments (11.2 and 22.4 Mg ha−1) had no effects on the soil physical properties after 5 yr. Small yearly applications improved the soil physical properties equally as well as a single large application.