Dynamics of phosphorus transfers from heavily manured Coastal Plain soils to drainage ditches

Peter J A Kleinman, Arthur L. Allen, Brian A. Needelman, Andrew N. Sharpley, Peter A. Vadas, Lou S. Saporito, Gordon J. Folmar, Ray B. Bryant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Understanding the dynamics of phosphorus (P) transport in agricultural drainage ditches is essential to their improved management for water quality protection. Seven ditches draining soils with a 20+ year history of receiving poultry litter were monitored: two for five years and five for one year. Ditches receiving runoff from point sources (e.g., barns) exported 4.3 to 25.3 kg total P ha-1 (3.8 to 22.6 lb total P ac-1) from 2005 to 2006, while ditches draining areas with only nonpoint source contributions exported 2.6 to 4.8 kg total P ha-1 (2.3 to 4.3 lb total P ac-1) during that period. High concentrations of P in field soils (Mehlich-3 P averaged 441 mg kg-1, or parts per million) and ditch soils (Mehlich-3 P averaged 171 mg kg-1) suggest that desorption is the key nonpoint source process controlling P in ditch flow. Over five years, annual total P losses from two ditches with only nonpoint source P contributions were 1.4 to 26.2 kg ha-1 (1.3 to 23.4 lb ac-1). Overland flow from the fields to these two ditches accounted for ≤ 8% of annual ditch P export, pointing to groundwater as a key pathway for P transport to ditches. Because P export from ditches was primarily in storm flow and groundwater sampling was primarily during base flow, this study does not provide compelling insight into the role of groundwater in ditch P transport. Only occasionally did dissolved P concentrations in groundwater and ditch flow correspond, and P export from the ditches occurred primarily in storm flow. Sampling of algal mats formed on the bottom of ditches suggests that floating algae may exacerbate sediment-related P transport. Results point to the need for new ditch management practices that can sequester dissolved forms of P and trap floating sources of P, in combination with traditional methods that primarily address sediment-bound P.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-235
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Soil and Water Conservation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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