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J Environ Qual. 2009 Apr 27;38(3):1286-301. doi: 10.2134/jeq2008.0318. Print 2009 May-Jun.

Soil nitrogen balance under wastewater management: field measurements and simulation results.

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Kansas Geological Survey, University of Kansas, 1930 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047, USA.


The use of treated wastewater for irrigation of crops could result in high nitrate-nitrogen (NO(3)-N) concentrations in the vadose zone and ground water. The goal of this 2-yr field-monitoring study in the deep silty clay loam soils south of Dodge City, Kansas, was to assess how and under what circumstances N from the secondary-treated, wastewater-irrigated corn reached the deep (20-45 m) water table of the underlying High Plains aquifer and what could be done to minimize this problem. We collected 15.2-m-deep soil cores for characterization of physical and chemical properties; installed neutron probe access tubes to measure soil-water content and suction lysimeters to sample soil water periodically; sampled monitoring, irrigation, and domestic wells in the area; and obtained climatic, crop, irrigation, and N application rate records for two wastewater-irrigated study sites. These data and additional information were used to run the Root Zone Water Quality Model to identify key parameters and processes that influence N losses in the study area. We demonstrated that NO(3)-N transport processes result in significant accumulations of N in the vadose zone and that NO(3)-N in the underlying ground water is increasing with time. Root Zone Water Quality Model simulations for two wastewater-irrigated study sites indicated that reducing levels of corn N fertilization by more than half to 170 kg ha(-1) substantially increases N-use efficiency and achieves near-maximum crop yield. Combining such measures with a crop rotation that includes alfalfa should further reduce the accumulation and downward movement of NO(3)-N in the soil profile.

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