Long-term nitrate removal in three riparian buffers: 21 years of data from the Bear Creek watershed in central Iowa, USA

Tyler A. Groh, Thomas M. Isenhart, Richard C. Schultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Riparian buffers are a conservation practice that increases vegetation diversity on the agricultural landscape while providing environmental benefits. This study specifically focused on the ability of riparian buffers to remove nitrate from shallow groundwater. There are many studies that assessed nitrate removal within buffers, but not many have a long-term, continuous data set that can analyze for variation in nitrate removal rates over time. Here we report on 21 years of nitrate well data, from 1996 through 2017, for three buffers in the Bear Creek watershed in central Iowa. These buffers are named using abbreviations to help keep landowners anonymous (e.g. RN, RS, and ST). Studied buffers RS and ST showed greater nitrate reduction (or removal) after 10 and 6 years of its establishment, respectively. Buffer RN did not experience a significant nitrate removal increase with time, but instead had higher nitrate removal rates when compared to buffers RS and ST of 10.3 g NO3-N m−1 day−1 from the start of this study. From this data, we suggest that past land management played a major role in the responses observed. RN had previously been established in cool-season grasses for grazing before being converted to a buffer, while RS and ST had been managed in a corn and soybean rotation. RN was thought to have higher denitrification immediately with increased labile soil carbon input and enhanced soil aggregation due to the grassland perennials, while buffer vegetation establishment increased soil carbon inputs and soil aggregation over time for RS and ST. These nitrate removal trends would not have been observed without access to long-term, continuous data. This study highlighted the importance of long-term data sets and the need to assess conservation practices over time to determine their longevity and efficiency with time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number140114
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Oct 20 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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