Journal of Environmental Quality, Volume 48, Issue 4

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Hydrological and Seasonal Controls of Phosphorus in Northern Great Plains Agricultural Streams
Nora J. Casson | Henry F. Wilson | Stephanie M. Higgins

Controls on nutrient transport in cold, low-relief agricultural regions vary dramatically among seasons. The spring snowmelt is often the dominant runoff and nutrient loading event of the year. However, climate change may increase the proportion of runoff occurring with rainfall, and there is an urgent need to understand seasonal controls on nutrient transport to understand how patterns may change in the future. In this study, we assess patterns and drivers of total P (TP) dynamics in eight streams draining agriculturally dominated watersheds, located in southern Manitoba, Canada. Data from three years of monitoring revealed highly coherent patterns of TP concentrations in streams, with pronounced peaks in the spring and midsummer across the region. This coherent pattern was in spite of considerable interannual variability in the magnitude and timing of discharge; in particular, a major storm event occurred in summer 2014, which resulted in more discharge than the preceding spring melt. Concentration-discharge model fits were generally poor or not significant, suggesting that runoff generation is not the primary driver of TP dynamics in the majority of streams. Seasonal patterns of conductivity and stream temperature suggest that mechanisms controlling TP vary by season; a spring TP concentration maximum may be related to surface runoff over frozen soils, whereas the summer TP maximum may be related to temperature-driven biogeochemical processes, which are not well represented in current conceptual or predictive models. These findings suggest that controls on stream TP concentrations are dynamic through the year, and responses to increases in dormant and nondormant season temperatures may depend on seasonally variable processes.

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Temporal Dynamics of Snowmelt Nutrient Release from Snow–Plant Residue Mixtures: An Experimental Analysis and Mathematical Model Development
Diogo Costa | Jian Liu | Jennifer Roste | J. M. Elliott

Reducing eutrophication in surface water is a major environmental challenge in many countries around the world. In cold Canadian prairie agricultural regions, part of the eutrophication challenge arises during spring snowmelt when a significant portion of the total annual nutrient export occurs, and plant residues can act as a nutrient source instead of a sink. Although the total mass of nutrients released from various crop residues has been studied before, little research has been conducted to capture fine-timescale temporal dynamics of nutrient leaching from plant residues, and the processes have not been represented in water quality models. In this study, we measured the dynamics of P and N release from a cold-hardy perennial plant species, alfalfa ( L.), to meltwater after freeze-thaw through a controlled snowmelt experiment. Various winter conditions were simulated by exposing alfalfa residues to different numbers of freeze-thaw cycles (FTCs) of uniform magnitude prior to snowmelt. The monitored P and N dynamics showed that most nutrients were released during the initial stages of snowmelt (first 5 h) and that the magnitude of nutrient release was affected by the number of FTCs. A threshold of five FTCs was identified for a greater nutrient release, with plant residue contributing between 0.29 (NO) and 9 (PO) times more nutrients than snow. The monitored temporal dynamics of nutrient release were used to develop the first process-based predictive model controlled by three potentially measurable parameters that can be integrated into catchment water quality models to improve nutrient transport simulations during snowmelt.

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Contribution of Overland and Tile Flow to Runoff and Nutrient Losses from Vertisols in Manitoba, Canada
Vivekananthan Kokulan | Merrin L. Macrae | David A. Lobb | Genevieve Ali

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.

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Agricultural Water Quality in Cold Climates: Processes, Drivers, Management Options, and Research Needs
Jian Liu | Helen M. Baulch | Merrin L. Macrae | Henry F. Wilson | J. M. Elliott | Lars Bergström | Aaron J. Glenn | Peter Vadas

Cold agricultural regions are important sites of global food production. This has contributed to widespread water quality degradation influenced by processes and hydrologic pathways that differ from warm region analogues. In cold regions, snowmelt is often a dominant period of nutrient loss. Freeze-thaw processes contribute to nutrient mobilization. Frozen ground can limit infiltration and interaction with soils, and minimal nutrient uptake during the nongrowing season may govern nutrient export from agricultural catchments. This paper reviews agronomic, biogeochemical, and hydrological characteristics of cold agricultural regions and synthesizes findings of 23 studies that are published in this special section, which provide new insights into nutrient cycling and hydrochemical processes, model developments, and the efficacy of different potentially beneficial management practices (BMPs) across varied cold regions. Growing evidence suggests the need to redefine optimum soil phosphorus levels and input regimes in cold regions to allow achievement of water quality targets while still supporting strong agricultural productivity. Practices should be considered through a regional and site-specific lens, due to potential interactions between climate, hydrology, vegetation, and soils, which influence the efficacy of nutrient, crop, water, and riparian buffer management. This leads to differing suitability of BMPs across varied cold agricultural regions. We propose a systematic approach (""), to achieve water quality objectives in variable and changing climates, which combines nutrient transport process onceptualization, nderstanding BMP functions, redicting effects of variability and change, onsideration of producer input and agronomic and environmental tradeoffs, practice daptation, nowledge mobilization, and valuation of water quality improvement.

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Impacts of Soil Phosphorus Drawdown on Snowmelt and Rainfall Runoff Water Quality
Jian Liu | J. M. Elliott | Henry F. Wilson | Helen M. Baulch

Managing P export from agricultural land is critical to address freshwater eutrophication. However, soil P management, and options to draw down soil P have received little attention in snowmelt-dominated regions because of limited interaction between soil and snowmelt. Here, we assessed the impacts of soil P drawdown (reducing fertilizer P inputs combined with harvest removal) on soil Olsen P dynamics, runoff P concentrations, and crop yields from 1997 to 2014 in paired fields in Manitoba, Canada. We observed that Olsen P concentrations in the 0- to 5-cm soil layer were negatively correlated with the cumulative P depletion and declined rapidly at the onset of the drawdown practice (3.1 to 5.4 mg kg yr during 2007-2010). In both snowmelt runoff and rainfall runoff, concentrations of total dissolved P (TDP) were positively correlated with the concentrations of soil Olsen P. Soil P drawdown to low to moderate fertility levels significantly decreased mean annual flow-weighted TDP concentrations in snowmelt runoff from 0.60 to 0.30 mg L in the field with high initial soil P and from 1.17 to 0.42 mg L in the field with very high initial soil P. Declines in TDP concentration in rainfall runoff were greater. Critically, yields of wheat ( spp.) and canola ( L.) were not affected by soil P depletion. In conclusion, we demonstrate that relatively rapid reductions in P loads are achievable at the field scale via managing P inputs and soil P pools, highlighting a management opportunity that can maintain food security while improving water security in cold regions.

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Impacts of Cover Crops and Crop Residues on Phosphorus Losses in Cold Climates: A Review
Jian Liu | Merrin L. Macrae | J. M. Elliott | Helen M. Baulch | Henry F. Wilson | Peter J. A. Kleinman

The use of cover crops and crop residues is a common strategy to mitigate sediment and nutrient losses from land to water. In cold climates, elevated dissolved P losses can occur associated with freeze-thaw of plant materials. Here, we review the impacts of cover crops and crop residues on dissolved P and total P loss in cold climates across ∼41 studies, exploring linkages between water-extractable P (WEP) in plant materials and P loss in surface runoff and subsurface drainage. Water-extractable P concentrations are influenced by plant type and freezing regimes. For example, WEP was greater in brassica cover crops than in non-brassicas, and increased with repeated freeze-thaw cycles. However, total P losses in surface runoff and subsurface drainage from cropped fields under cold climates were much lower than plant WEP, owing to retention of 45 to >99% of released P by soil. In cold climatic regions, cover crops and crop residues generally prevented soil erosion and loss of particle-bound P during nongrowing seasons in erodible landscapes but tended to elevate dissolved P loss in nonerodible soils. Their impact on total P loss was inconsistent across studies and complicated by soil, climate, and management factors. More research is needed to understand interactions between these factors and plant type that influence P loss, and to improve the assessment of crop contributions to P loss in field settings in cold climates. Further, tradeoffs between P loss and the control of sediment loss and N leaching by plants should be acknowledged.

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Agricultural Edge‐of‐Field Phosphorus Losses in Ontario, Canada: Importance of the Nongrowing Season in Cold Regions
Janina M. Plach | William T. Pluer | Merrin L. Macrae | Mazda Kompani-Zare | Kevin McKague | R. Carlow | R. Brunke

Agricultural P losses are a global economic and water quality concern. Much of the current understanding of P dynamics in agricultural systems has been obtained from rainfall-driven runoff, and less is known about cold-season processes. An improved understanding of the magnitude, form, and transport flow paths of P losses from agricultural croplands year round, and the climatic drivers of these processes, is needed to prioritize and evaluate appropriate best management practices (BMPs) to protect soil-water quality in cold regions. This study examines multiyear, year-round, high-frequency edge-of-field P losses (soluble reactive P and total P [TP]) in overland flow and tile drainage from three croplands in southern Ontario, Canada. Annual and seasonal budgets for water, P, and estimates of field P budgets (including fertilizer inputs, crop uptake, and runoff) were calculated for each site. Annual edge-of-field TP loads ranged from 0.18 to 1.93 kg ha yr (mean = 0.59 kg ha yr) across the region, including years with fertilizer application. Tile drainage dominated runoff across sites, whereas the contribution of tiles and overland flow to P loss differed regionally, likely related to site-specific topography, soil type, and microclimate. The nongrowing season was the dominant period for runoff and P loss across sites, where TP loss during this period was often associated with overland flow during snowmelt. These results indicate that emphasis should be placed on BMPs that are effective during both the growing and nongrowing season in cold regions, but that the suitability of various BMPs may vary for different sites.

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Seasonality of Phosphorus and Nitrate Retention in Riparian Buffers
Sanjayan Satchithanantham | Blair English | Henry F. Wilson

Measurement of the retention of dissolved nutrients in riparian areas with snowmelt runoff are much less common than for rainfall runoff, but low rates of uptake or the release of nutrients with snowmelt have been attributed to frozen soils, lower biotic uptake, and release of nutrients from senesced vegetation. In the research presented here, we evaluate whether the potential for uptake of dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) and NO differ significantly between snowmelt and summer seasons with flow through 13 riparian buffers downstream of cropland in Manitoba, Canada. Flow-through buffers in small channels are typical in this landscape, and pulsed releases of a conservative tracer and dissolved nutrients were used to measure uptake rates. Although mean uptake rates of NO were higher in summer than for snowmelt, responses varied widely. Aerial uptake rate of DRP showed a significant negative relationships with soil Olsen-P ( = 0.54, < 0.001) and a P saturation index ( = 0.48, < 0.001) across both seasons. Biological processes may be of greater importance for NO retention, but DRP retention appears to be driven by adsorption-desorption regardless of season. Olsen-P is identified as a good indicator of potential for release or retention of DRP in riparian buffers with fine-textured calcareous soils, for both snowmelt and summer seasons. Soil testing may be a good tool to aid in the siting of new buffers and to track the effectiveness of management interventions to remove P from riparian areas, such as harvest of vegetation.

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Nutrient Loss in Snowmelt Runoff: Results from a Long‐term Study in a Dryland Cropping System
Kimberley D. Schneider | B.G. McConkey | Arumugam Thiagarajan | J. M. Elliott | Keith Reid

Snowmelt runoff often comprises the majority of annual runoff in the Canadian Prairies and a significant proportion of total nutrient loss from agricultural land to surface water. Our objective was to determine the effect of agroecosystem management on snowmelt runoff and nutrient losses from a long-term field experiment at Swift Current, SK. Runoff quantity, nutrient concentrations, and loads were estimated after a change in management from conventionally tilled wheat ( L.)-fallow (Conv W-F) to no-till wheat-fallow and subsequently no-till wheat-pulse (NT W-F/LP) and to an organic system with a wheat-green manure rotation (Org W-GM). The conversion from conventional tillage practices to no-till increased snowmelt runoff likely due to snow trapping by standing stubble after summer fallow. Relatedly, runoff after no-till summer fallow had higher dissolved P losses (0.07 kg P ha). Replacing summer fallow with a pulse crop in the no-till rotation decreased snowmelt runoff losses and nutrient concentrations. The Org W-GM treatment had the lowest P loss after stubble (0.02 kg P ha) but had high dissolved P concentrations in snowmelt following the green manure (0.55 mg P L), suggesting a contribution from incorporated crop residues. In this semiarid climate with little runoff, dissolved reactive P and NO-N loads in snowmelt runoff were smaller than those reported elsewhere on the prairies (averaging <0.05 kg P ha yr, and <0.2 kg NO-N ha yr); however, the nutrient concentrations we observed, in particular for P, even without P fertilizer addition for organic production, question the practicality of agricultural management systems in this region meeting water quality guidelines.

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Landscape Controls on Nutrient Export during Snowmelt and an Extreme Rainfall Runoff Event in Northern Agricultural Watersheds
Henry F. Wilson | Nora J. Casson | Aaron J. Glenn | Pascal Badiou | Lyle Boychuk

In the northern Great Plains, most runoff transport of N, and P to surface waters has historically occurred with snowmelt. In recent years, significant rainfall runoff events have become more frequent and intense in the region. Here, we examine the influence of landscape characteristics on hydrology and nutrient export in nine tributary watersheds of the Assiniboine River in Manitoba, Canada, during snowmelt runoff and with an early summer extreme rainfall runoff event (ERRE). All watersheds included in the study have land use that is primarily agricultural, but with differing proportions of land remaining as wetlands, grassland, and that has been artificially drained. Those watersheds with greater capacity for storage of water in surface depressions (noneffective contributing areas) exhibited lower rates of runoff and nutrient export with snowmelt. During the ERRE, higher export of total P (TP), but not total N, was observed from those watersheds with larger amounts of contributing area that had been added through artificial surface drainage, and this was associated primarily with higher TP concentrations. Increasing or restoring the storage of water on the landscape is likely to reduce nutrient export; however, the importance of antecedent conditions was evident during the ERRE, when small surface depressions were at or near capacity from snowmelt. Total P concentrations observed during the summer ERRE were as high as those observed with snowmelt, and N/P ratios were significantly lower. If the frequency of summer ERREs increases with climate change, this is likely to result in negative water quality outcomes.

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Near‐Surface Soils as a Source of Phosphorus in Snowmelt Runoff from Cropland
Henry F. Wilson | J. M. Elliott | Merrin L. Macrae | Aaron J. Glenn

In northern regions, a high proportion of annual runoff and phosphorus (P) export from cropland occurs with snowmelt. In this study, we analyze 57 site-years of field-scale snowmelt runoff data from 16 small watersheds draining fine-textured soils (clay or clay loam) in Manitoba, Canada. These fields were selected across gradients of soil P (2.4 to 26.7 mg kg, 0- to 15-cm Olsen P), tillage intensity (high frequency to long-term no-till), and fertilizer input. The strongest predictor of flow-weighted mean concentrations of total dissolved P (TDP) in snowmelt runoff was Olsen P in the top 5 cm of soil ( = 0.45, < 0.01). Residual variation in this relationship related positively to volumetric soil moisture and negatively to water yield. Although Olsen P levels were relatively consistent from year to year, suggesting control by long-term fertilization and tillage history, Olsen P stratification (ratio of 0-5/0-15 cm) increased with rates of fertilizer application. Particulate P (PP) comprised <34% of total P on average, and concentrations were not well predicted by soil or management characteristics. Loads of PP and TDP exported during snowmelt were primarily a function of water yield and size of accumulated snowpack; however, residual variation in the TDP relationship correlated positively with both soil moisture and Olsen P. Retention of runoff water on the landscape could reduce loads, but careful management of near-surface soil P is required to prevent snowmelt runoff losses of P at the source and to reduce the potential for the eutrophication of downstream aquatic ecosystems.