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Assessment of irrigation and environmental quality at the hydrological basin level: II. Salt and nitrate loads in irrigation return flows

AuthorsCausapé Valenzuela, Jesús; Quílez Sáez de Viteri, Dolores ; Aragüés Lafarga, Ramón
Diffuse pollution
Issue DateDec-2004
CitationAgricultural Water Management 70 (3): 211–228 (2004)
AbstractIrrigation return flows may induce salt and nitrate pollution of receiving water bodies. The objectives of this study were to perform a salt and nitrogen mass balance at the hydrological basin level and to quantify the salt and nitrate loads exported in the drainage waters of three basins located in a 15,500 ha irrigation district of the Ebro River Basin (Spain). The main salt and nitrogen inputs and outputs were measured or estimated in these basins along the 2001 hydrological year. Groundwater inflows in the three basins and groundwater outflow in one basin were significant components of the measured mass balances. Thus, the off-site impact ascribed solely to irrigation in these basins was estimated in the soil drainage water. Salt concentrations in soil drainage were low (TDS of around 400–700 mg/l, depending on basins) due to the low TDS of irrigation water and the low presence of salts in the geologic materials, and were inversely related to the drainage fractions (DF = 37–57%). However, due to these high DF, salt loads in soil drainage were relatively high (between 3.4 and 4.7 Mg/ha), although moderate compared to other areas with more saline geological materials. Nitrate concentrations and nitrogen loads in soil drainage were highest (77 mg NO3−/l and 195 kg N/ha) in basin III, heavily fertilized (357 kg N/ha), with the highest percentage of corn and with shallow, low water retention flood-irrigated soils. In contrast, the lowest nitrate concentrations and nitrogen loads (21 mg NO3−/l and 23 kg N/ha) were found in basin II, fertilized with 203 kg N/ha and preponderant in deep, alluvial valley soils, crops with low N requirements (alfalfa and pasture), the highest non-cropped area (26% of total) and with fertigation practices in the sprinkler-irrigated fields (36% of the irrigated area). Thus, 56% of the N applied by fertilization was lost in soil drainage in basin III, as compared to only 16% in basin II. In summary, a low irrigation efficiency coupled to an inadequate management of nitrogen fertilization are responsible for the low-salt, high-nitrate concentrations in soil and surface drainage outflows from the studied basins. In consequence, higher irrigation efficiencies, optimized nitrogen fertilization and the reuse for irrigation of the low-salt, high-nitrate drainage waters are key management strategies for a better control of the off-site pollution from the studied irrigation district.
Description18 Pags.- 3 Tabls.- 2 Figs.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2004.06.006
Appears in Collections:(EEAD) Artículos
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