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Keywords:

  • nonpoint source pollution;
  • pollution modeling;
  • agricultural hydrology;
  • NLEA.P;
  • GIS;
  • irrigation;
  • spatial variability.)

ABSTRACT: The high spatial variability of nitrate concentrations in ground water of many regions is thought to be closely related to spatially-variable leaching rates from agricultural activities. To clarify the relative roles of the different nitrate leaching controlling variables under irrigated agriculture in northeastern Colorado, we conducted an extensive series of leaching simulations with the NLEAP model using best estimates of local agricultural practices. The results of these simulations were then used with GIS to estimate the spatial variability of leachate quality for a 14,000 ha area overlying the alluvial aquifer of the South Platte River. Simulations showed that in the study area, differences in soil type might lead to 5–10 kg/ha of N variation in annual leaching rates while variability due to crop rotations was as much as 65 kg-N/ha for common rotations. Land application of manure from confined animal feeding operations may account for more than 100 kg-N/ha additional leaching. For a selected index rotation, the simulated nitrogen leaching rates across the area varied from 10 to 299 kg/ha and simulated water volumes leached ranged from 13 to 76 cm/yr depending on soil type, irrigation type, and use of manure. Resulting leachate concentrations of 3.5–140 mg/l NO3 as N were simulated. Land application of manure was found to be the most important factor determining the mass flux of nitrate leached and the combination of sprinkler irrigation and manure application yields the highest leachate concentrations.