Document Type


Research Focus Area(s)

Land and Water Resources Engineering

Publication Date


Grant Number


Granting or Sponsoring Agency

United States Department of Agriculture


The primary objective of this project was to estimate the nitrate reduction that could be achieved using restored wetlands as nitrogen sinks in tile-drained regions of the upper Mississippi River (UMR) and Ohio River basins. This report provides an assessment of nitrate concentrations and loads across the UMR and Ohio River basins and the mass reduction of nitrate loading that could be achieved using wetlands to intercept nonpoint source nitrate loads. Nitrate concentration and stream discharge data were used to calculate stream nitrate loading and annual flow-weighted average (FWA) nitrate concentrations and to develop a model of FWA nitrate concentration based on land use. Land use accounts for 90% of the variation among stations in long term FWA nitrate concentrations and was used to estimate FWA nitrate concentrations for a 100 ha grid across the UMR and Ohio River basins. Annual water yield for grid cells was estimated by interpolating over selected USGS monitoring station water yields across the UMR and Ohio River basins. For 1990 to 1999, mass nitrate export from each grid area was estimated as the product of the FWA nitrate concentration, water yield and grid area. To estimate potential nitrate removal by wetlands across the same grid area, mass balance simulations were used to estimate percent nitrate reduction for hypothetical wetland sites distributed across the UMR and Ohio River basins. Nitrate reduction was estimated using a temperature dependent, area-based, firstorder model. Model inputs included local temperature from the National Climatic Data Center and water yield estimated from USGS stream flow data. Results were used to develop a nonlinear model for percent nitrate removal as a function of hydraulic loading rate (HLR) and temperature. Mass nitrate removal for potential wetland restorations distributed across the UMR and Ohio River basin was estimated based on the expected mass load and the predicted percent removal. Similar functions explained most of the variability in per cent and mass removal reported for field scale experimental wetlands in the UMR and Ohio River basins. Results suggest that a 30% reduction in nitrate load from the UMR and Ohio River basins could be achieved using 210,000-450,000 ha of wetlands targeted on the highest nitrate contributing areas.



File Format