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Orthophosphorus (OP) is the form of dissolved inorganic P that is commonly measured in groundwater studies, but the spatial distribution of groundwater OP across a watershed has rarely been assessed. In this study, we characterized spatial patterns of groundwater OP concentrations and loading rates within the 5218 ha Walnut Creek watershed (Iowa) over a two-year period. Using a network of 24 shallow (< 6 m) monitoring wells established across watershed, OP concentrations ranged from < 0.01 to 0.58 mg/l in all samples (n = 147) and averaged 0.084 ± 0.107 mg/l. Groundwater OP concentrations were higher in floodplains and OP mass loading rates were approximately three times higher than in uplands. We estimated that approximately 1231 kg of OP is present in floodplain groundwater and 2869 kg is present in upland groundwater within the shallow groundwater zone (0–5 m depth). Assuming no new inputs of OP to shallow groundwater, we estimated it would take approximately eight years to flush out existing OP mass present in the system. Results suggest that conservation practices focused on reducing OP loading rates in floodplain areas may have a disproportionately large water quality benefit compared to upland areas.


The following article is published as Schilling, Keith E., Matthew T. Streeter, Thomas M. Isenhart, William J. Beck, Mark D. Tomer, Kevin J. Cole, and John L. Kovar. "Distribution and mass of groundwater orthophosphorus in an agricultural watershed." Science of the Total Environment 625 (2018): 1330-1340. Posted with permission.

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