Waterborne Search Waterborne Navigation


Monitoring Nutrient Loss and Water Quality in Illinois Production Agriculture

June 6, 2016

[shareaholic app="share_buttons" id="21086355"]

Nutrient cycling and water quality are topics that have been recently thrust to the forefront of agricultural research with the creation of state and federal Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategies. Waterborne Environmental believes that applied science and information-based approaches should guide decision-making around associated policy and regulation.

In 2014, a partnership between Waterborne Environmental, Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) and Illinois Council on Best Management Practices (CBMP) formed. The partnership evolved and now includes a variety of nutrient and water quality field and modeling studies. In the beginning, Waterborne started working with ICGA and CBMP on a multi-year Demonstration Farms Partnership Program that began with four sites in central Illinois in 2015. The goal was to collect baseline agricultural nutrient loss data and quantify the value and impact of certain field management practices on nutrient loss.

Waterborne's custom designed water monitoring equipment for nutrient monitoring in central Illinois

Waterborne’s custom designed water monitoring equipment for nutrient monitoring in central Illinois

To accomplish this goal, Waterborne determined that continuous subsurface tile flow monitoring, automated water sampling for nutrients and meteorological monitoring would be key components of this study design. Cellular telemetry and data loggers, also part of the study design, would allow easy access and control of real-time data and instrumentation. Early study design success led to the addition of two more sites in central Illinois in 2016 and those sites have allowed Waterborne to begin to compare nutrient losses (nitrate, ammonium, phosphorus) from different in-field management practices, such as cover crops, tillage and nitrogen management.

This year Waterborne also started working with the Soil Health Partnership (SHP), an initiative from the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) to enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability through improved soil health. Waterborne and SHP will begin a novel study to pair soil health characterization with water quality metrics. This unique approach provides a more comprehensive picture of nutrient management which has yet to be compiled. The four sites continuing in 2016 will serve as research purposes and will become a “classroom” for numerous CBMP field days to allow CBMP to reach out to producers and begin conversations about water quality issues and possible solutions. Two of the Demonstration Farm sites have recently been in the news and collaborators are excited to share what they have been learning.

In addition to field monitoring, Waterborne has been extensively involved in data analysis, data synthesis and communication of findings to local stakeholder and community groups. Waterborne engineers and scientists have been actively researching the nitrate dynamics of Lake Vermillion and Lake Springfield watersheds to understand the recent high nitrate detections in the lakes, which also serve as community water supplies. Waterborne’s team conducted an analysis of drivers impacting nitrate concentrations in Lake Vermillion with a multi-variate statistical framework that analyzed soils, hydrologic, land management and water quality data. Additionally, the SWAT (Soil Water Assessment Tool) model has been used to determine the potential response of lake nitrate concentrations to the implementation of best management practices at different scales in the watershed. The Lake Springfield Watershed team has been monitoring 23 stream sites throughout the watershed for nitrate concentrations weekly since 2014. In a combined monitoring and SWAT modeling effort, 2015 nitrate loads at six of the sites were calculated and it revealed a new way of evaluating water quality drivers in the watershed. Results of the data analysis and synthesis have been presented in a number of local venues including field days, public/community, regulatory and science meetings where important implications and findings have been communicated and discussed.

Waterborne has extensive experience in instrumenting and monitoring drainage tile, edge-of-field, stream, ground water, pond, drinking water, weather and soil moisture data collection sites. Our adaptability and creativity is key to meeting the needs of our clients for any field study or modeling analysis. Our engineers, hydrologists and agronomists have developed substantial expertise that has led to client success in several agricultural and environmental domains. Among these are the design of field studies of varying sizes and complexities to monitor nutrient load, as well as the development of novel ways to synthesize field monitoring data through numerical modeling, statistics and data analysis. Waterborne also provides high quality support to all aspects of site selection and data analysis requiring geospatial information services.

If you are interested in the possibility of a partnership with Waterborne for your agricultural or environmental project, please contact Dr. Dan Perkins (perkinsd@waterborne-env.com) or Greg Goodwin (goodwing@waterborne-env.com).