Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Environmental Quality 30 (July-August 2001), pp. 1184-1194.


The impact of improved irrigation and nutrient practices on ground water quality was assessed at the Nebraska Management System Evaluation Area using ground water quality data collected from 16 depths at 31 strategically located multilevel samplers three times annually from 1991 to 1996. The site was sectioned into four 13.4-ha management fields: (i) a conventional furrow-irrigated corn (Zea mays L.) field; (ii) a surge-irrigated corn field, which received 60% less water and 31% less N fertilizer than the conventional field; (iii) a center pivot-irrigated corn field, which received 66% less water and 37% less N fertilizer than the conventional field; and (iv) a center pivot-irrigated alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) field. Dating (3H/3He) indicated that the uppermost ground water was < 1 to 2 yr old and that the aquifer water was stratified with the deepest water ~20 yr old. Recharge during the wet growing season in 1993 reduced the average NO3–N concentration in the top 3 m 20 mg L–1, effectively diluting andreplacing the NO3-contaminated water. Nitrate concentrations in the shallow zone of the aquifer increased with depth to water. Beneath the conventional and surge-irrigated fields, shallow ground water concentrations returned to the initial 30 mg NO3––N L–1 level by fall 1995; however, beneath the center pivot-irrigated corn field, concentrations remained at ~13 mg NO3––N L–1 until fall 1996. A combination of sprinkler irrigation and N fertigation significantly reduced N leaching with only minor reductions (6%) in crop yield.