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Field drains as a route of rapid nutrient export from agricultural land receiving biosolids

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sean Burke


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We report research on the environmental risk of incidental nutrient transfers from land to water for biosolids amended soils. We show that subsurface (drainflow) pathways of P transport may result in significant concentrations, up to 10 mg total P l− 1, in the drainage network of an arable catchment when a P source (recent biosolids application) coincides with a significant and active transport pathway (rainfall event). However, the high P concentrations were short-lived, with drainage ditch total P concentrations returning to pre-storm concentrations within a few days of the storm event. In the case of the drainflow concentrations reported here, the results are unusual in that they describe an ‘incidental event’ for a groundwater catchment where such events might normally be expected to be rare owing to the capacity of the hydrological system to attenuate nutrient fluxes for highly adsorbed elements such as P. Consequently, there is a potential risk of P transfers to shallow groundwater systems. We suggest that the findings are not specific to biosolids-alone, which is a highly regulated industry, but that similar results may be anticipated had livestock waste or mineral fertilizer been applied, although the magnitude of losses may differ. The risk appears to be more one of timing and the availability of a rapid transport pathway than of P source.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Heathwaite AL, Burke SP, Bolton L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Science of the Total Environment

Year: 2006

Volume: 365

Issue: 1-3

Pages: 33-46

ISSN (print): 0048-9697

ISSN (electronic): 1879-1026

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2006.02.033


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