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.
Abstract Algal blooms in the Great Lakes are a concern due to excess nutrient loading from non-point sources; however, there is uncertainty over the relative contributions of various non-point sources under different types of land use in rural watersheds, particularly over annual time scales. Four nested subwatersheds in Southern Ontario, Canada (one natural woodlot, two agricultural and one mixed agricultural and urban) were monitored over one year to identify peak periods (‘hot moments’) and areas (‘hot spots’) of nutrient (dissolved reactive phosphorus, DRP; total phosphorus, TP; and nitrate, NO3−) export and discharge. Annual nutrient export was small at the natural site (0.001 kg DRP ha−1; 0.004 kg TP ha−1; 0.04 kg NO3—N ha−1) compared to the agricultural and mixed-use sites (0.10–0.15 kg DRP ha−1; 0.70–0.94 kg TP ha−1; 9.15–11.55 kg NO3—N ha−1). Temporal patterns in P concentrations were similar throughout the sites, where spring was the dominant season for P export, irrespective of land use. Within the Hopewell Creek watershed, P and N hot spots existed that were consistently hot spots across all events with the location of these hot spots driven by local land use patterns, where there was elevated P export from a dairy-dominated sub-watershed and elevated N export from both of the two agricultural sub-watersheds. These estimates of seasonal- and event-based nutrient loads and discharge across nested sub-watersheds contribute to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the importance of identifying critical areas and periods in which to emphasize management efforts.
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.
Abstract In the sub‐humid Western Boreal Plains of Alberta, where evapotranspiration often exceeds precipitation, trembling aspen ( Populus tremuloides Michx.) uplands often depend on adjacent peatlands for water supply through hydraulic redistribution. Wildfire is common in the Boreal Plains, so the resilience of the transfer of water from peatlands to uplands through roots immediately following wildfire may have implications for aspen succession. The objective of this research was to characterize post‐fire peatland‐upland hydraulic connectivity and assess controls on aspen transpiration (as a measure of stress and productivity) among landscape topographic positions. In May 2011, a wildfire affected 90,000 ha of north central Alberta, including the Utikuma Region Study Area (URSA). Portions of an URSA glacio‐fluval outwash lake catchment were burned, which included forests and a small peatland. Within 1 year after the fire, aspen were found to be growing in both the interior and margins of this peatland. Across recovering land units, transpiration varied along a topographic gradient of upland midslope (0.42 mm hr −1 ) > upland hilltop (0.29 mm hr −1 ) > margin (0.23 mm hr −1 ) > peatland (0.10 mm hr −1 ); similar trends were observed with leaf area and stem heights. Although volumetric water content was below field capacity, P. tremuloides were sustained through roots present, likely before fire, in peatland margins through hydraulic redistribution. Evidence for this was observed through the analysis of oxygen (δ 18 O) and hydrogen (δ 2 H) isotopes where upland xylem and peat core signatures were −10.0‰ and −117.8‰ and −9.2‰ and −114.0‰, respectively. This research highlights the potential importance of hydraulic redistribution to forest sustainability and recovery, in which the continued delivery of water may result in the encroachment of aspen into peatlands. As such, we suggest that through altering ecosystem services, peatland margins following fire may be at risk to aspen colonization during succession.