The Effects of a Tile-drainage Treatment Wetland on Nutrient Removal in Southern Minnesota

Treatment wetlands are increasingly needed to remove nitrate from agricultural drainage water to protect downstream waters, such as the Gulf of Mexico. This project sought to develop a new edge-of-field treatment wetland, designed to remove nitrate-nitrogen and enhance phosphorus removal by plant harvest and to monitor its effectiveness. A 0.10 ha wetland was designed and installed to treat subsurface drainage flow from farmland in southwestern Minnesota, USA, in 2013, and monitored for three years by recording flow, nitrate-nitrogen, total phosphorus (TP) and soluble orthophosphorus (OP) input to and output from the wetland. Prior to construction, a level-pool routing, mass balance approach with DRAINMOD flow inputs was used to predict nitrate removal efficiency. Nitrate load removal averaged 68% over three years, nearly matching model predictions. However, most denitrification occurred in the sub-soil of the wetland rather than in surface flow as predicted. Phosphorus removal was approximately 76% over three years, and phosphorus removed by plant uptake exceeded inflow mass in the third year. The edge-of-field design has potential as a cost-effective method to treat field outflows because agricultural landowners can adopt this treatment system with minimal loss of productive farmland. The wet-prairie vegetation and shallow depth also provide the opportunity to remove additional phosphorus via vegetative harvest.

Project Staff: 

Chris Lenhart, Brad Gordon, Josh Gamble, Dean Current, Heidi Peterson, John Nieber, Nikol Ross, Joe Magner, and Ashley Brenke