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How efficient is modern peri-urban nitrogen cycling: A case study

Bittman, S., Sheppard, S.C., Poon, D., Hunt, D.E.
Journal of environmental management 2019 v.244 pp. 462-471
atmospheric deposition, case studies, coastal water, combustion, composting, ecosystems, emissions, fertilizers, food production, hinterland, humans, imports, leaching, livestock feeds, mountains, nitrogen, nitrogen cycle, nutrients, phosphorus, poultry production, rivers, runoff, sewage, soil, solid wastes, urban areas, waste disposal, British Columbia
Urban centres acquire and accumulate many materials from their hinterland, among these are nutrient elements such as nitrogen (N). The popular North American vision of a peri-urban setting is one where urban food production, composting and re-cycling are assumed to limit urban accumulation of nutrients. This study quantifies this assumption using the Lower Fraser Valley (LFV) of British Columbia as an example, ideal because it is surrounded by mountains, ocean and an international border which collectively delimit the peri-urban boundaries. Nitrogen influxes are dominated by livestock feed imports to support dairy and poultry production (18000 tonnes N), followed by human food imports (9210 tonnes N), as well as 5410 tonnes N as fertilizer and 4690 tonnes N in atmospheric deposition. There is a transfer of 6700 tonnes N from agricultural to urban ecosystems displacing food imports, but food production contributes to the N footprint of the LFV. Nitrogen effluxes are dominated by sewage disposal (10400 tonnes N), solid waste disposal (7020 tonnes N) and atmospheric emissions (9460 tonnes N). The total influx is 15 kg N per person, the net influx is 3.1 kg N per person. Per unit land area, these are a total influx of 24 kg N/ha and a net influx of 4.7 kg N/ha. The atmospheric emissions are 4.7 kg N per person and 7.2 kg/ha. The N in soil is mobile and it is assumed soil N is at a steady state concentration, thus the surplus N is lost from the soil, probably by leaching and runoff. The Fraser River is estimated to acquire and transport 5230 tonnes N from the region into the ocean each year, in addition to 10300 tonnes N from sewage outfall. This is coupled with effluxes of phosphorus (estimated previously), and the result probably has an impact on the coastal waters. There is little reuse of imported N and current waste management practices including composting and combustion do little to improve N efficiency.