Biological Systems Engineering, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Vol. 61(1): 245-261


2018 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers


Developing drainage water management (DWM) systems in the Midwest to reduce nitrogen (N) transport to the northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone requires understanding of the long-term performance of these systems. Few studies have evaluated long-term impacts of DWM, and the simulation of controlled drainage (CD) with the Root Zone Water Quality Model (RZWQM) is limited, while shallow drainage (SD) has not been examined. We tested RZWQM using nine years (2007-2015) of field data from southeast Iowa for CD, SD, conventional drainage (DD), and undrained (ND) systems and simulated the long-term (1971-2015) impacts. RZWQM accurately simulated N loss in subsurface drainage, and the simulations agreed with field data that CD and SD substantially reduced N loss to drainage. As indicated by the field data, the SD N concentration was predicted to be greater than DD and CD, likely due to reduced time of travel to shallower drains. The long-term simulations show that CD and SD reduced annual N lost via tile drainage by 26% and 40%, respectively. Annual reductions in N lost via tile drainage ranged from 28% in the driest years to 22% in the wettest years for CD and from 56% in the driest years to 35% in the wettest years for SD. Considering spring N loading for the purpose of addressing hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, CD was found to be less effective than SD, and in many years CD exported more N in the spring than DD. Spring N loading (April through June) was indicated by the EPA Science Advisory Board to have the greatest impact on hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, improvement of CD systems within the months of April through June to reduce N loss via drainage across the upper Midwest landscape may be required. Limited research in the upper Midwest has addressed spring N loading under controlled drainage systems (CD). This research will help model developers, model users, and agricultural scientists more clearly understand N transport under different systems, including CD, SD, and ND, which will aid in developing the design and management of drainage systems to reduce N transport from tile-drained agriculture to surface waters.