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Contribution of base flow to nonpoint source pollution loads in an agricultural watershed

January 1, 2001

Nonpoint source pollution of surface water from overland flow, drainage tiles, and ground water discharge is a major cause of water quality impairment in Iowa. Nonpoint source pollution from base flow ground water was estimated in the Walnut Creek watershed by measuring chemical loads of atrazine, nitrate, chloride, and sulfate at 18 tributary creeks and 19 tiles. Loads were measured during a stable base flow period at creeks and tiles that discharged into Walnut Creek between two stream gauges. Chemical concentrations of atrazine (< 0.1−12 μg/L), nitrate (0.1 to 15 mg/L, and chloride (1.5 to 26 mg/L) in water were similar for creek and tile samples. Water draining predominantly agricultural row crop areas had much higher concentrations than water draining restored prairie areas. Three methods were used to estimate base flow discharge in the watershed: (1) Darcy flux; (2) watershed discharge budget; and (3) discharge-drainage area; each yielded similar results (31.2 L/s to 62.3 L/s). Base flow loads to the main channel were estimated by subtracting the loads from the upstream gauge; creeks and tiles, from the total load measured at the downstream gauge station. Base flow concentration for atrazine ranged from 0.15 to 0.29 μg/L and sulfate concentration ranged from 32 to 64 mg/L, whereas concentrations for nitrate and chloride were negative (−1 to −4 mg/L). Calculated base flow concentrations of atrazine and sulfate appeared to be reasonable estimates, but negative concentrations of nitrate and chloride imply either loss of chemical mass in the stream from upstream to downstream sampling points or measurement error. Load data suggest little contribution from base flow pollutants to Walnut Creek water quality, with most of the pollutant load derived from major tributary creeks. Results from this study have implication for determining total maximum daily loads in agricultural watersheds where contributions from point sources (creeks and tiles) can be used to estimate loads from nonpoint source ground water inputs.

Publication Year 2001
Title Contribution of base flow to nonpoint source pollution loads in an agricultural watershed
DOI 10.1111/j.1745-6584.2001.tb00350.x
Authors K. E. Schilling, C.F. Wolter
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ground Water
Index ID 70023526
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse