Riparian buffers, which are an important component of watershed management strategies, can effectively mitigate nutrients and pesticides in agricultural runoff. However, concentrated flow pathways (CFPs) can undermine the performance of buffers by allowing contaminant-laden runoff to bypass the mitigation potential offered by the buffer soils and vegetation. To determine the extent to which CFPs increase pesticide transport from agricultural fields to nearby streams, soil samples (0-2 cm depth) were collected along both CFPs and overland flow (OLF) pathways from the field to the stream for nine fields in a Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) site in the ridge and valley physiographic region of Pennsylvania. Soil samples were analyzed for atrazine, metolachlor, and imidacloprid, with two dominant patterns emerging. In corn fields, pesticide concentrations were higher in OLF than CFP samples, suggesting that pesticides were mitigated during transport through each corn field. In contrast, hay and pasture fields, which had not been treated with any of the three pesticides of interest, had lower pesticide concentrations in the OLF samples than the CFP samples. Because the CFPs from these fields originated in upgradient unsampled corn fields, these results suggest that the CFPs were a conduit for pesticides applied in the corn fields and were simply flowing through the hay and pasture fields. Similarly, CFPs in riparian buffers and grass pathways located between the row-cropped fields and the stream tended to have lower concentrations than the upland field (OLF-F) but higher concentrations than the buffer OLF, suggesting a potential for increasing overland flow effectiveness in riparian zones by interrupting CFPs leading to the stream. This study highlights the importance of the land management factors and hydrologic connectivity that cause CFPs to serve different functions (mitigation or enhancement) as runoff is conveyed from agricultural fields to a riparian buffer, and ultimately to an adjacent stream. Further, the results highlight the need for design and maintenance solutions addressing the erosion and sediment control issues that commonly undermine agricultural buffer effectiveness.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Biomedical Engineering
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Soil Science