Managing natural processes in drainage ditches for nonpoint source nitrogen control

Jeffrey S. Strock, Curtis James Dell, John P. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

43 Scopus citations


In watersheds dominated by agriculture, artificial drainage systems can efficiently and quickly transport excess water from agricultural soils. The application of more nitrogen (N) than a crop uses creates a surplus in the soil and increases the risk of N loss to the environment. We examine issues associated with agricultural N use, N transfer from artificially drained agricultural land to drainage ditches, N cycling within ditches, and options for management. Watercourses in agricultural watersheds often have high concentrations of N and are effectively N saturated. Numerous processes are involved in N cycling dynamics and transport pathways in aquatic ecosystems including N mineralization, nitrification, and denitrification. Flow control structures can lower N losses related to artificial drainage by increasing water retention time and allowing greater N removal. An ongoing study in Minnesota compares the impact of flow control structures on N losses from paired ditches with and without flow control. During the first year of observation, results were mixed, with lower N concentrations in nonstorm event samples from the ditch with the flow control structure, but no significant difference in annual total N load between the two ditches. Appropriate management of drainage ditches represents a potential opportunity to remove biologically available forms of N from drainage water through a combination of physical and biogeochemical processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)188-196
Number of pages9
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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