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Hydraulic conditions affect pollutant removal efficiency in distributed ditches and ponds in agricultural landscapes

Jia, Z., Chen, C., Luo, W., Zou, J., Wu, W., Xu, M., Tang, Y.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.649 pp. 712-721
agricultural land, analytical methods, case studies, drainage, drainage channels, nutrients, pesticides, pollutants, pollution control, ponds, water quality, wetlands, China
Distributed ditches and ponds in agricultural landscapes can retain agricultural pollutants (such as nutrients and pesticides) like wetlands while facilitating crop field drainage. Their complex hydraulic conditions affect pollutant transport and degradation processes, but the existing lump-sum method for estimating pollutant removal treats the total area simply as one unit without considering their specific hydraulic conditions (HCs). In this paper we proposed an analytical method for evaluating pollutant removal efficiencies of distributed ditches and ponds by considering their different HCs explicitly. A realization factor (RF) was used to compare pollutant removal rates with and without considering specific HCs. Application of the method was demonstrated with a case study based on field investigations in an intensively farmed area in southeastern China. The total area of ditches and ponds accounts for 15% of drained crop fields; and the calculated RFs were 0.70–0.84% for various removal rate constants. The difference was mainly caused by the uneven distribution of ditches and ponds along different drainage paths. For pollutants with small values of removal rate constants, the calculated concentration reductions along different flow paths were proportional to their wetland sizes, making the pollutant removal as area limited. For pollutants with larger values of removal rate constant, however, the calculated pollutant removal became concentration limited when the wetland to farmland area ratio was high. Large ponds and ditches were major contributors (85–94%) of pollutant removal in the whole system, while the field ditches contributed to less than 10% of the total removal due to their small dimension and shallow water depth. The distributed nature of ditches and ponds poses some inherent limitations to their water quality functions due to variable hydraulic conditions; understanding such underlying constraints may help guide proper evaluation and conservation of the existing ditches and ponds in agricultural landscapes.