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.
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.
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.
Preferential flowpaths transport phosphorus (P) to agricultural tile drains. However, if and to what extent this may vary with soil texture, moisture conditions, and P placement is poorly understood. This study investigated (a) interactions between soil texture, antecedent moisture conditions, and the relative contributions of matrix and preferential flow and (b) associated P distributions through the soil profile when fertilizers were applied to the surface or subsurface. Brilliant blue dye was used to stain subsurface flowpaths in clay and silt loam plots during simulated rainfall events under wet and dry conditions. Fertilizer P was applied to the surface or via subsurface placement to plots of different soil texture and moisture condition. Photographs of dye stains were analysed to classify the flow patterns as matrix dominated or macropore dominated, and soils within plots were analysed for their water‐extractable P (WEP) content. Preferential flow occurred under all soil texture and moisture conditions. Dye penetrated deeper into clay soils via macropores and had lower interaction with the soil matrix, compared with silt loam soil. Moisture conditions influenced preferential flowpaths in clay, with dry clay having deeper infiltration (92 ± 7.6 cm) and less dye–matrix interaction than wet clay (77 ± 4.7 cm). Depth of staining did not differ between wet (56 ± 7.2 cm) and dry (50 ± 6.6 cm) silt loam, nor did dominant flowpaths. WEP distribution in the top 10 cm of the soil profile differed with fertilizer placement, but no differences in soil WEP were observed at depth. These results demonstrate that large rainfall events following drought conditions in clay soil may be prone to rapid P transport to tile drains due to increased preferential flow, whereas flow in silt loams is less affected by antecedent moisture. Subsurface placement of fertilizer may minimize the risk of subsurface P transport, particularily in clay.
Phosphorus (P) loss in agricultural discharge has typically been associated with surface runoff; however, tile drains have been identified as a key P pathway due to preferential transport. Identifying when and where these pathways are active may establish high-risk periods and regions that are vulnerable for P loss. A synthesis of high-frequency, runoff data from eight cropped fields across the Great Lakes region of North America over a 3-yr period showed that both surface and tile flow occurred year-round, although tile flow occurred more frequently. The relative timing of surface and tile flow activation was classified into four response types to infer runoff-generation processes. Response types were found to vary with season and soil texture. In most events across all sites, tile responses preceded surface flow, whereas the occurrence of surface flow prior to tile flow was uncommon. The simultaneous activation of pathways, indicating rapid connectivity through the vadose zone, was seldom observed at the loam sites but occurred at clay sites during spring and summer. Surface flow at the loam sites was often generated as saturation-excess, a phenomenon rarely observed on the clay sites. Contrary to expectations, significant differences in P loads in tiles were not apparent under the different response types. This may be due to the frequency of the water quality sampling or may indicate that factors other than surface-tile hydrologic connectivity drive tile P concentrations. This work provides new insight into spatial and temporal differences in runoff mechanisms in tile-drained landscapes.
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.
Supply and Transport Limitations on Phosphorus Losses from Agricultural Fields in the Lower Great Lakes Region, Canada
Janina M. Plach,
Merrin L. Macrae,
Tatianna M. Lozier,
I. P. O’Halloran,
Christopher J. Van Esbroeck
Journal of Environmental Quality, Volume 47, Issue 1
Phosphorus (P) mobilization in agricultural landscapes is regulated by both hydrologic (transport) and biogeochemical (supply) processes interacting within soils; however, the dominance of these controls can vary spatially and temporally. In this study, we analyzed a 5-yr dataset of stormflow events across nine agricultural fields in the lower Great Lakes region of Ontario, Canada, to determine if edge-of-field surface runoff and tile drainage losses (total and dissolved reactive P) were limited by transport mechanisms or P supply. Field sites ranged from clay loam, silt loam, to sandy loam textures. Findings indicate that biogeochemical processes (P supply) were more important for tile drain P loading patterns (i.e., variable flow-weighted mean concentrations () across a range of flow regimes) relative to surface runoff, which trended toward a more chemostatic or transport-limited response. At two sites with the same soil texture, higher tile  and greater transport limitations were apparent at the site with higher soil available P (STP); however, STP did not significantly correlate with tile  or P loading patterns across the nine sites. This may reflect that the fields were all within a narrow STP range and were not elevated in STP concentrations (Olsen-P, ≤25 mg kg). For the study sites where STP was maintained at reasonable concentrations, hydrology was less of a driving factor for tile P loadings, and thus management strategies that limit P supply may be an effective way to reduce P losses from fields (e.g., timing of fertilizer application).