Efficiency of controlled drainage and subirrigation in reducing nitrogen losses from agricultural fields
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In northeast Italy, a regimen of controlled drainage in winter and subirrigation in summer was tested as a strategy for continuous water table management with the benefits of optimizing water use and reducing unnecessary drainage and nitrogen losses from agricultural fields. To study the feasibility and performance of water table management, an experimental facility was set up in 1996 to reproduce a hypothetical 6-ha agricultural basin with different land drainage systems existing in the region. Four treatments were compared: open ditches with free drainage and no irrigation (O), open ditches with controlled drainage and subirrigation (O-CI), subsurface corrugated drains with free drainage and no irrigation (S), subsurface corrugated drains with controlled drainage and subirrigation (S-CI). As typically in the region free drainage ditches were spaced 30. m apart, and subsurface corrugated drains were spaced 8. m apart. Data were collected from 1997 to 2003 on water table depth, drained volume, nitrate-nitrogen concentration in the drainage water, and nitrate-nitrogen concentration in the groundwater at various depths up to 3. m. Subsurface corrugated drains with free drainage (S) gave the highest measured drainage volume of the four regimes, discharging, on average, more than 50% of annual rainfall, the second-highest concentration of nitrate-nitrogen in the drainage water, and the highest nitrate-nitrogen losses at 236kha-1. Open ditches with free drainage (O) showed 18% drainage return of rainfall, relatively low concentration of nitrate-nitrogen in the drainage water, the highest nitrate-nitrogen concentration in the shallow groundwater, and 51kgha-1 nitrate-nitrogen losses. Both treatments with controlled drainage and subirrigation (O-CI and S-CI) showed annual rainfall drainage of approximately 10%. O-CI showed the lowest nitrate-nitrogen concentration in the drainage water, and the lowest nitrogen losses (15kgha-1). S-CI showed the highest nitrate-nitrogen concentration in the drainage water, and 70kgha-1 nitrate-nitrogen losses. Reduced drained volumes resulted from the combined effects of reduced peak flow and reduced number of days with drainage. A linear relationship between daily cumulative nitrate-nitrogen losses and daily cumulative drainage volumes was found, with slopes of 0.16, 0.12, 0.07, and 0.04kgha-1 of nitrate-nitrogen lost per mm of drained water in S-CI, S, O, and O-CI respectively. These data suggest that controlled drainage and subirrigation can be applied at farm scale in northeast Italy, with advantages for water conservation. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.
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