Water Center, The


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Environmental Quality 32 (2003), pp. 84-91.


Better management practices can counter deterioration of ground water quality. From 1991 through 1996 the influence of improved irrigation practices on ground water pesticide contamination was assessed at the Nebraska Management SystemsEvaluation Area. Three 13.4-ha corn (Zea mays L.) fields were studied: a conventional furrow-irrigated field, a surge-irrigated field and a center pivot–irrigated field, and a center pivot–irrigated alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) field. The corn fields received one identical banded application of Bicep (atrazine [6-chloro-N-ethyl-N’-(1-methylethyl)-1,3,5-triazine-2,4,-diamine] _ metolachlor [2-chloro-N-(2-ethyl-6-methylphenyl)-N-(2-methoxy-1-methylethyl) acetamide]) annually; the alfalfa field was untreated. Ground water samples were collected three times annually from 16 depths of 31 multi-level samplers. Six years of sample data indicated that a greater than 50% reduction in irrigation water on the corn management fields lowered average atrazine concentrations in the upper 1.5 m of the aquifer downgradient of the corn fields from approximately 5.5 to –1. Increases in deethylatrazine (DEA; 2-chloro-4-amino-6-isopropyl- amino-s-triazine) to atrazine molar ratios indicated that reducing water applications enhanced microbial degradation of atrazine in soil zones. The occurrence of peak herbicide loading in ground water was unpredictable but usually was associated with heavy precipitation within days of herbicide application. Focused recharge of storm runoff that ponded in the surge-irrigated field drainage ditch, in the upgradient road ditch, and at the downgradient end of the conventionally irrigated field was a major mechanism for vertical transport. Sprinkler irrigation technology limited areas for focused recharge and promoted significantly more soil microbial degradation of atrazine than furrow irrigation techniques and, thereby, improved ground water quality.