Nutrient transport through a Vegetative Filter Strip with subsurface drainage

J Environ Manage. 2009 Apr;90(5):1868-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2008.12.010. Epub 2009 Jan 25.


The transport of nutrients and soil sediments in runoff has been recognized as a noteworthy environmental issue. Vegetative Filter Strips (VFS) have been used as one of the best management practices (BMPs) for retaining nutrients and sediments from surface runoff, thus preventing the pollutants from reaching receiving waters. However, the effectiveness of a VFS when combined with a subsurface drainage system has not been investigated previously. This study was undertaken to monitor the retention and transport of nutrients within a VFS that had a subsurface drainage system installed at a depth of 1.2 m below the soil surface. Nutrient concentrations of NO(3)-N (Nitrate Nitrogen), PO(-)(4) (Orthophosphorus), and TP (Total Phosphorus) were measured in surface water samples (entering and leaving the VFS), and subsurface outflow. Soil samples were collected and analyzed for plant available Phosphorus (Bray P1) and NO(3)-N concentrations. Results showed that PO(-)(4), NO(3)-N, and TP concentrations decreased in surface flow through the VFS. Many surface outflow water samples from the VFS showed concentration reductions of as much as 75% for PO(-)(4) and 70% for TP. For subsurface outflow water samples through the drainage system, concentrations of PO(-)(4) and TP decreased but NO(3)-N concentrations increased in comparison to concentrations in surface inflow samples. Soil samples that were collected from various depths in the VFS showed a minimal buildup of nutrients in the top soil profile but indicated a gradual buildup of nutrients at the depth of the subsurface drain. Results demonstrate that although a VFS can be very effective in reducing runoff and nutrients from surface flow, the presence of a subsurface drain underneath the VFS may not be environmentally beneficial. Such a combination may increase NO(3)-N transport from the VFS, thus invalidating the purpose of the BMP.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Biodegradation, Environmental*
  • Cattle
  • Drainage, Sanitary
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Filtration*
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Phosphorus / analysis
  • Plants*
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis
  • Waste Management
  • Water Movements
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollution / prevention & control*


  • Nitrates
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Phosphorus