There is an ongoing debate as to whether nutrient contamination of groundwater under agricultural fields may cause nutrient-enrichment and subsequent eutrophication in discharge areas. Often, there is only circumstantial evidence to support this supposition (proximity of agricultural fields, direction of water flow, highly productive vegetation). Research on solute transport along a flow path is necessary to evaluate the risk for eutrophication. In this paper we present results of such a study. Two transects were established in a discharge meadow, a few meters downstream from fertilized cornfields. Highly productive vegetation in parts of the meadow suggested nutrient-enrichment caused by inflow of contaminated groundwater. This supposition was supported by an analysis of groundwater flow paths, residence times and chloride as tracer for pollution. However, the fate of nutrients along the flow path indicated otherwise. While we found high concentrations of DIN (dissolved inorganic nitrogen), P and K under the cornfields, DIN and P concentrations drop below detection limit when groundwater enters the meadow. Only K progressed into the meadow but did not enter the root zone. We conclude that (1) polluted groundwater from the cornfields did not cause the nutrient-enrichment, as indicated by the highly productive vegetation. Restoration projects in discharge areas should not focus upon measures in upstream areas if only circumstantial evidence is available. Solute transport should be considered as well. (2) Because K clearly showed to be the most mobile nutrient, its importance for nutrient-enrichment in discharge wetlands merits more attention in future research.
|Published - 2005