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The effect of restored and native oxbows on hydraulic loads of nutrients and stream water quality

October 1, 2016

The use of oxbow wetlands has been identified as a potential strategy to reduce nutrient transport from agricultural drainage tiles to streams in Iowa. In 2013 and 2014, a study was conducted in north-central Iowa in a native oxbow in the Lyons Creek watershed and two restored oxbow wetlands in the Prairie Creek watershed (Smeltzer west and Smeltzer east) to assess their effectiveness at reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loads. The tile line inlets carrying agricultural runoff to the oxbows, the outfall from the oxbows, and the surface waters in the streams receiving the outfall water were monitored for discharge and nutrients from February 2013 to September 2015. Smeltzer west and east also had four monitoring wells each, two in the upland and two between the oxbow and Prairie Creek to monitor surface water-groundwater interaction. The Smeltzer west and east oxbow sites also were instrumented to continuously measure the nitrate concentration. Rainfall was measured at one Lyons Creek and one Smeltzer site. Daily mean nitrate-N concentrations in Lyons Creek in 2013 ranged from 11.8 mg/L to 40.9 mg/L, the median daily mean nitrate-N concentration was 33.0 mg/L. Daily mean nitrate-N concentrations in Prairie Creek in 2013 ranged from 0.07 mg/L in August to 32.2 mg/L in June. In 2014, daily mean nitrate-N concentrations in Prairie Creek ranged from 0.17 mg/L in April to 26.7 mg/L in July; the daily mean nitrate-N concentration for the sampled period was 9.78 mg/L. Nutrient load reduction occurred in oxbow wetlands in Lyons and Prairie Creek watersheds in north-central Iowa but efficiency of reduction was variable. Little nutrient reduction occurred in the native Lyons Creek oxbow during 2013. Concentrations of all nutrient constituents were not significantly (P>0.05, Wilcoxon rank sum) different in water discharging from the tile line than in water leaving the Lyons Creek oxbow. A combination of physical features and flow conditions suggest that the residence time of water in the oxbow may not have been sufficient to allow for removal of substantial amounts of nutrients. Approximately 54 percent less nitrate-N was measured leaving the Smeltzer west oxbow than was measured entering from a small 6-inch field tile. The efficiency of nitrate-N removal in the oxbow was not able to be definitively quantified as other hydrologic factors such as overland and groundwater flow into and through the oxbow were not addressed and may provide alternative routes for nutrient transport. Damage to the Smeltzer east oxbow outfall weir prevented analysis of its nutrient load reduction capability. The study provides important information to managers and land owners looking for strategies to reduce nutrient transport from fields. Additional research is needed to understand how increased discharge from larger field tiles and drainage district mains may influence the efficiency of nutrient reduction in relation to the size, type, and landscape setting of a wetland.

Publication Year 2016
Title The effect of restored and native oxbows on hydraulic loads of nutrients and stream water quality
Authors Stephen J. Kalkhoff, Laura E. Hubbard, Joseph P.Schubauer-Berigan
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Index ID 70182256
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Iowa Water Science Center