U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Main content area

Distribution and mass of groundwater orthophosphorus in an agricultural watershed

Keith E. Schilling, Matthew T. Streeter, Thomas M. Isenhart, William J. Beck, Mark D. Tomer, Kevin J. Cole, John L. Kovar
Science of the total environment 2018 v.625 pp. 1330-1340
agricultural watersheds, conservation practices, floodplains, groundwater, highlands, inorganic phosphorus, monitoring, streams, water quality, wells, Iowa
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 5218ha Walnut Creek watershed (Iowa) over a two-year period. Using a network of 24 shallow (<6m) monitoring wells established across watershed, OP concentrations ranged from <0.01 to 0.58mg/l in all samples (n=147) and averaged 0.084±0.107mg/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 1231kg of OP is present in floodplain groundwater and 2869kg is present in upland groundwater within the shallow groundwater zone (0–5m 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.