Hydrological variability and agricultural drainage ditch inorganic nitrogen reduction capacity

J Environ Qual. 2007 Oct 16;36(6):1646-52. doi: 10.2134/jeq2006.0506. Print 2007 Nov-Dec.


The application of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers on agricultural landscapes has the potential to generate concerns of environmental degradation at fine to coarse scales across the catchment and landscape. Inorganic nitrogen species (NO3*, NO2*, and NH3) are typically associated with subsurface flow processes; however, surface runoff from rainfall events in no-till agriculture with inorganic surface fertilizers might contribute to downstream eutrophication. Inorganic nitrogen reduction capacity of agricultural drainage ditches under no-till cotton was determined under natural, variable rainfall conditions in northern Mississippi. Monthly grab baseflow samples and storm-generated flow samples were variably sampled temporally within two experimental farm ditches over 2 yr. Inorganic nitrogen concentrations, in conjunction with Manning's equation and Natural Resources Conservation Service dimensionless hydrographs, provided individual water volumes per storm event and thus maximum effluent and outflow nitrogen loads. Base and stormflow regression results indicate drainage ditches reducing NO3* and NH3 over the length of the ditch for growing and dormant seasons. Overall, maximum storm loads of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) from the farm over the 2-yr sampling period accounted for 2.2% of the initial fertilizer application, of which 1.1% left the ditch (0.84 kg ha(-1) yr(-1)) (a 57% ditch reduction of DIN load over 2 yr). Long-term sampling incorporating data on application and loss of fertilizers and farm management will provide critical information for farmers and scientists on the potential of economic gains and downstream ecosystem eutrophication, respectively.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Inorganic Chemicals / analysis*
  • Mississippi
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Rain
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Time Factors


  • Inorganic Chemicals
  • Nitrogen