Agricultural fields in the Red River Valley of the Northern Great Plains are located on flat clay soils, often drained by shallow, roadside ditches that are not graded and lacking relief. These conditions can result in flow reversals and subsequent flooding of adjacent fields during large runoff events, which can mobilize phosphorus (P). Surface runoff from two agricultural fields and their adjacent ditches was monitored from 2015 to 2017 in southern Manitoba, Canada. Overbank flooding of fields adjacent to ditches was observed in 5 of 21 hydrologic events, and such events dominated annual runoff and P budgets (>83% of losses over the 3-year study period). Flooding events were often dominated by soluble P fractions (57–67%) relative to events where flooding was not observed (39–63%). Concentrations of soluble reactive P in water standing on fields increased with time during flooding events, suggesting that P was mobilized during such events; however, the source of the soluble reactive P is not clear. This study has highlighted temporal differences in hydrologic and biogeochemical interactions between fields and ditches and demonstrated the need for an improved understanding of mechanisms of P mobilization in the landscape, which has direct implications for predicting P mobility in agricultural watersheds.
Influence of climate, topography, and soil type on soil extractable phosphorus in croplands of northern glacial‐derived landscapes
Janina M. Plach,
Merrin L. Macrae,
Henry F. Wilson,
David A. Lobb,
Kevin W. King
Journal of Environmental Quality, Volume 51, Issue 4
Delineating the relative solubility of soil phosphorus (P) in agricultural landscapes is essential to predicting potential P mobilization in the landscape and can improve nutrient management strategies. This study describes spatial patterns of soil extractable P (easily, moderately, and poorly soluble P) in agricultural landscapes of the Red River basin and the southern Great Lakes region. Surface soils (0-30 cm) and select deeper cores (0-90 cm) were collected from 10 cropped fields ranging in terrain (near-level to hummocky), soil texture (clay to loam), composition (calcareous to noncalcareous), and climate across these differing glacial landscapes. Poorly soluble P dominated (up to 91%) total extractable P in the surface soils at eight sites. No differences in the relative solubilities of soil extractable P with microtopography were apparent in landscapes without defined surface depressions. In contrast, in landscapes with pronounced surface depressions, increased easily soluble P (Sol-P), and decreased soil P sorption capacity were found in soil in wetter, low-slope zones relative to drier upslope locations. The Sol-P pool was most important to soil P retention (up to 28%) within the surface depressions of the Red River basin and at sites with low-carbonate soils in the southern Lake Erie watershed (up to 28%), representing areas at elevated risk of soil P remobilization. This study demonstrates interrelationships among soil extractable P pools, soil development, and soil moisture regimes in agricultural glacial landscapes and provides insight into identifying potential areas for soil P remobilization and associated P availability to crops and runoff.
Abstract. The Red River is one of the largest contributing sources of discharge and nutrients to the world's 10th largest freshwater lake, Lake Winnipeg. Conversion of large areas of annual cropland to perennial forage has been proposed as a strategy to reduce both flooding and nutrient export to Lake Winnipeg. Such reductions could occur either via a reduction in the concentration of nutrients in runoff or through changes in the basin-scale hydrology, resulting in a lower water yield and the concomitant export of nutrients. This study assessed the latter mechanism by using the physically based Cold Regions Hydrological Modelling platform to examine the hydrological impacts of land use conversion from annual crops to perennial forage in a subbasin of the La Salle River basin in Canada. This basin is a typical agricultural subbasin in the Red River Valley, characterised by flat topography, clay soils, and a cold subhumid, continental climate. Long-term simulations (1992–2013) of the major components of water balance were compared between canola and smooth bromegrass, representing a conversion from annual cropping systems to perennial forage. An uncertainty framework was used to represent a range of fall soil saturation status (0 % to 70 %), which governs the infiltration to frozen soil in the subsequent spring. The model simulations indicated that, on average, there was a 36.5 ± 6.6 % (36.5 ± 7.2 mm) reduction in annual cumulative discharge and a 29.9 ± 16.3 % (2.6 ± 1.6 m3 s−1) reduction in annual peak discharge due to forage conversion over the assessed period. These reductions were driven by reduced overland flow 52.9 ± 12.8 % (28.8 ± 10.1 mm), increased peak snowpack (8.1 ± 1.5 %, 7.8 ± 1.6 mm), and enhanced infiltration to frozen soils (66.7 ± 7.7 %, 141.5 ± 15.2 mm). Higher cumulative evapotranspiration (ET) from perennial forage (34.5 ± 0.9 %, 94.1 ± 2.5 mm) was also predicted by the simulations. Overall, daily soil moisture under perennial forage was 18.0 % (57.2 ± 1.2 mm) higher than that of crop simulation, likely due to the higher snow water equivalent (SWE) and enhanced infiltration. However, the impact of forage conversion on daily soil moisture varied interannually. Soil moisture under perennial forage stands could be either higher or lower than that of annual crops, depending on antecedent spring snowmelt infiltration volumes.
Agricultural tile drainage is expanding in the northern Great Plains of North America. Given ongoing environmental and political concerns related to the eutrophication of Lake Winnipeg in Canada and the potential for tile drains to transport significant quantities of nutrients from agricultural fields, an improved understanding of nutrient dynamics in tile drains in this region is needed. This study characterized seasonal patterns in tile flow and chemistry under variable hydroclimatic conditions and related this variance to temporal variability in soil hydraulic properties in a farm in southern Manitoba, Canada, from 2015 to 2017. Tile flow, soil hydraulic properties, and groundwater table position all varied seasonally, as did the chemistry of tile drain effluent. The majority of annual tile discharge, which occurred in late spring, appears to have been contributed by shallow groundwater, primarily through soil matrix pathways. At these greater tile flow rates, concentrations of soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) and total phosphorus (TP) were low (<0.03 mg L<sup>–1</sup> SRP, <0.04 mg L<sup>–1</sup> TP), but concentrations of nitrate (NO<sub>3</sub>-N) were high (20 to 25 mg L<sup>–1</sup> NO<sub>3</sub>-N). In contrast, tile flows outside of this peak period appeared to be primarily attributed to preferential flow pathways through frozen (snowmelt) and dry soil cracks (summer). Phosphorus (P) concentrations were greater during snowmelt and summer (~0.05 mg L<sup>–1</sup> SRP, ~0.1 mg L<sup>–1</sup> TP) but did not produce significant nutrient loads due to the minimal tile discharge rates (<1 mm d<sup>–1</sup>). This work suggests that the expansion of tile drainage may not exacerbate water quality issues involving P in the northern Great Plains but may increase nitrogen (N) loads in local water bodies.
Phosphorus (P) runoff from agricultural land plays a critical role in downstream water quality. This article summarizes P and sediment runoff data for both snowmelt and rainfall runoff from 30 arable fields in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. The data were collected from 216 site-years of field experiments, with climates ranging from semi-arid to humid and a wide range of field management practices. In the article, mean annual and seasonal (in terms of snowmelt and rain) precipitation inputs, runoff depths, and P and sediment concentrations and loads are presented, along with ranges of yearly values. In addition, information of field management and soil characteristics (e.g. soil type and soil Olsen P) is also presented for each field. The data have potential to be reused for national and international cross-region comparisons of P and sediment losses, constructing and validating decision-support models and tools for assessing and managing P losses in both snowmelt and rainfall runoff, and informing beneficial management practices to improve agricultural water quality. Interpretation of the data is found in “Phosphorus runoff from Canadian agricultural land: A cross-region synthesis of edge-of-field results”  .
Algal blooms fueled by phosphorus (P) enrichment are threatening surface water quality around the world. Although P loss from arable land is a critical contributor to P loads in many agricultural watersheds , there has been a lack of understanding of P loss patterns and drivers across regions. Here, we synthesized edge-of-field P and sediment runoff data for 30 arable fields in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario (a total of 216 site-years) to elucidate spatial and temporal differences in runoff and P mobilization in snowmelt and rainfall runoff, and discuss climatic, soil and management drivers for these patterns. Across all regions, precipitation inputs were positively correlated with runoff amounts and consequently P loads. Runoff and P losses were dominated by snowmelt across all sites, however, regional differences in runoff amounts, and P concentrations, loads and speciation were apparent. Proportions of total P in the dissolved form were greater in the prairie region (55–94% in Manitoba) than in the Great Lakes region (26–35% in Ontario). In Manitoba, dissolved P concentrations in both snowmelt and rainfall runoff were strongly positively correlated to soil Olsen P concentrations in the 0–5 cm soil depth; however, this relationship was not found for Ontario fields, where tile drainage dominated hydrologic losses. Although precipitation amounts and runoff volumes were greater in Ontario than Manitoba, some of the greatest P loads were observed from Manitoba fields, driven by management practices. This synthesis highlights the differences across the Canadian agricultural regions in P runoff patterns and drivers, and suggests the need of co-ordinated and standardized monitoring programs to better understand regional differences and inform management. Phosphorus runoff patterns vary with climatic regions across Canada. †The dissolved P was measured as total dissolved P in MB and dissolved reactive P in SK and ON. ‡Total P was not measured in SK. • Phosphorus runoff patterns and drivers vary with climatic regions across Canada. • Co-ordinated and standardized monitoring programs are key to clarify regional differences. • Snowmelt dominates runoff volume and phosphorus loss across Canada. • The predominant form of P in runoff differs between the Prairie region and the Great Lakes region. • Reducing phosphorus sources is important for mitigating phosphorus runoff.
The Northern Great Plains is a key region to global food production. It is also a region of water stress that includes poor water quality associated with high concentrations of nutrients. Agricultural nitrogen and phosphorus loads to surface waters need to be reduced, yet the unique characteristics of this environment create challenges. The biophysical reality of the Northern Great Plains is one where snowmelt is the major period of nutrient transport, and where nutrients are exported predominantly in dissolved form. This limits the efficacy of many beneficial management practices (BMPs) commonly used in other regions and necessitates place-based solutions. We discuss soil and water management BMPs through a regional lens—first understanding key aspects of hydrology and hydrochemistry affecting BMP efficacy, then discussing the merits of different BMPs for nutrient control. We recommend continued efforts to “keep water on the land” via wetlands and reservoirs. Adoption and expansion of reduced tillage and perennial forage may have contributed to current nutrient problems, but both practices have other environmental and agronomic benefits. The expansion of tile and surface drainage in the Northern Great Plains raises urgent questions about effects on nutrient export and options to mitigate drainage effects. Riparian vegetation is unlikely to significantly aid in nutrient retention, but when viewed against an alternative of extending cultivation and fertilization to the waters’ edge, the continued support of buffer strip management and refinement of best practices (e.g., harvesting vegetation) is merited. While the hydrology of the Northern Great Plains creates many challenges for mitigating nutrient losses, it also creates unique opportunities. For example, relocating winter bale-grazing to areas with low hydrologic connectivity should reduce loadings. Managing nutrient applications must be at the center of efforts to mitigate eutrophication. In this region, ensuring nutrients are not applied during hydrologically sensitive periods such as late autumn, on snow, or when soils are frozen will yield benefits. Working to ensure nutrient inputs are balanced with crop demands is crucial in all landscapes. Ultimately, a targeted approach to BMP implementation is required, and this must consider the agronomic and economic context but also the biophysical reality.
This study quantified the contributions of overland and tile flow to total runoff (sum of overland and tile flow) and nutrient losses in a Vertisolic soil in the Red River valley (Manitoba, Canada), a region with a cold climate where tile drainage is rapidly expanding. Most annual runoff occurred as overland flow (72-89%), during spring snowmelt and large spring and summer storms. Tile drains did not flow in early spring due to frozen ground. Although tiles flowed in late spring and summer (33-100% of event flow), this represented a small volume of annual runoff (10-25%), which is in stark contrast with what has been observed in other tile-drained landscapes. Median daily flow-weighted mean concentrations of soluble reactive P (SRP) and total P (TP) were significantly greater in overland flow than in tile flow ( < 0.001), but the reverse pattern was observed for NO-N ( < 0.001). Overland flow was the primary export pathway for both P and NO-N, accounting for >95% of annual SRP and TP and 50 to 60% of annual NO-N losses. Data suggest that tile drains do not exacerbate P export from Vertisols in the Red River valley because they are decoupled from the surface by soil-ice during snowmelt, which is the primary time for P loss. However, NO-N loading to downstream water bodies may be exacerbated by tiles, particularly during spring and summer storms after fertilizer application.
Water quality problems are frequently influenced by hydrological processes, particularly in landscapes in which land drainage has been modified. The expansion of agricultural tile drainage in the Northern Great Plains of North America is occurring, yet is controversial due to persistent water quality problems such as eutrophication. Runoff‐generating mechanisms in North American tile‐drained landscapes in vertisolic soils have not been investigated but are important for understanding the impacts of tile drainage on water quantity and quality. This study evaluated the role of climate drivers on the activation of overland (OF) and tile (TF) flow and groundwater flow responses (GWT) on tile‐drained and nontile‐drained farm fields in Southern Manitoba, Canada. The response times of different flow paths (OF, TF, and GWT) were compared for 23 hydrological events (April–September 2015, 2016) to infer dominant runoff generation processes. Runoff responses (all pathways) were more rapid following higher intensity rainfall. Subsurface responses were hastened by wetter antecedent conditions in spring and delayed by the seasonal soil–ice layer. The activation of OF did not differ between the tiled and nontiled fields, suggesting that tile drains do little to reduce the occurrence of OF in this landscape. Rapid vertical preferential flow into tiles via preferential flow pathways was uncommon at our site, and the soil profile instead wet up from the top down. These conclusions have implications for the expansion of tile drainage and the impact of such an expansion on hydrological and biogeochemical processes in agricultural landscapes.