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Modeling the Impacts of Farming Practices on Water Quality in the Little Miami River Basin

Tong, Susanna T. Y., Naramngam, Sarawuth
Environmental management 2007 v.39 no.6 pp. 853-866
Soil and Water Assessment Tool model, agricultural land, ammonia, crop rotation, data collection, ecosystem services, farmers, herbicides, income, intensive farming, mineral fertilizers, no-tillage, nonpoint source pollution, nutrients, phosphorus, plowing, population growth, sediments, soil quality, soil resources, soil water, soybeans, water quality, water resources, watersheds
Since intensive farming practices are essential to produce enough food for the increasing population, farmers have been using more inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Agricultural lands are currently one of the major sources of non-point source pollution. However, by changing farming practices in terms of tillage and crop rotation, the levels of contamination can be reduced and the quality of soil and water resources can be improved. Thus, there is a need to investigate the amalgamated hydrologic effects when various tillage and crop rotation practices are operated in tandem. In this study, the Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) was utilized to evaluate the individual and combined impacts of various farming practices on flow, sediment, ammonia, and total phosphorus loads in the Little Miami River basin. The model was calibrated and validated using the 1990-1994 and 1980-1984 data sets, respectively. The simulated results revealed that the SWAT model provided a good simulation performance. For those tested farming scenarios, no-tillage (NT) offered more environmental benefits than moldboard plowing (MP). Flow, sediment, ammonia, and total phosphorus under NT were lower than those under MP. In terms of crop rotation, continuous soybean and corn-soybean rotation were able to reduce sediment, ammonia, and total phosphorus loads. When the combined effects of tillage and crop rotation were examined, it was found that NT with continuous soybean or corn-soybean rotation could greatly restrain the loss of sediments and nutrients to receiving waters. Since corn-soybean rotation provides higher economic revenue, a combination of NT and corn-soybean rotation can be a viable system for successful farming.