Runoff water quality during drought in a zero-order georgia piedmont pasture: nitrogen and total organic carbon

J Environ Qual. May-Jun 2011;40(3):969-79. doi: 10.2134/jeq2010.0411.


Approximately 11% of the Southern Piedmont (1.8 million ha) is used for pasture and hay production, mostly under low-input management. Few studies have investigated in the region long-term nitrogen and carbon losses in surface runoff, which can be significant. We present 1999 to 2009 hydrologic and water quality data from a rotationally grazed, 7.8-ha, zero-order pasture (W1) near Watkinsville in the Georgia Piedmont. Annual rainfall was 176 to 463 mm below the long-term average (1240 mm) in 7 of the 11 yr. There were 20 runoff events during 86 mo of below-average rainfall (deficit period), compared with 54 events during 46 mo of nondeficit period. Mean event flow-weighted concentration (in mg L) was 0.96 for nitrate-nitrogen (NO-N), 0.97 for ammonium-nitrogen (NH-N), 3.70 for total nitrogen (TN), and 9.12 for total organic carbon (TOC) ( = 43-47; limited due to instrument problem). Nutrient loads (in kg ha per event) averaged 0.04 for NO-N, 0.03 for NH-N, 0.19 for TN, and 0.54 for TOC. Total loads for N and TOC were 6 to 11 times greater from nondeficit than from deficit periods. The observed N concentrations, while well below maximum drinking water standard limits, could pose risk for eutrophication, which can be stimulated at lower concentrations. However, the ability of headwater streams, such as the one downstream of W1, to reduce nutrient concentrations might partially alleviate this concern. The results of this study point to the need to use a long-term dataset that includes measurements made in drought and wet years when evaluating the efficacy of water quality standards.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Animals
  • Carbon / analysis*
  • Cattle
  • Droughts
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Eutrophication
  • Fresh Water / chemistry
  • Georgia
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Nitrogen / analysis*
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / analysis
  • Rain
  • Rivers
  • Soil Pollutants / analysis*
  • Water Movements
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Supply


  • Nitrates
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen