Concentrations of dissolved orthophosphate (ortho P) in the unsaturated zone, groundwater, tile drains, and groundwater/stream water interfaces were assessed in five agricultural watersheds to determine the potential for subsurface transport. Concentrations of iron oxides were measured in the aquifer material and adsorption of ortho P on oxide surfaces was assessed by geochemical modeling. Attenuation of ortho P in these aquifers was attributed primarily to sorption onto iron oxides, and in one location onto clay minerals. Only one location showed a clear indication of phosphorus transport to a stream from groundwater discharge, although groundwater did contribute to the stream load elsewhere. Subsurface ortho P movement at a site in California resulted in a plume down gradient from orchards, which was attenuated by a 200 m thick riparian zone with natural vegetation. Iron oxides had an effect on phosphorus movement and concentrations at all locations, and groundwater chemistry, especially pH, exerted a major control on the amount of phosphorus adsorbed. Groundwater pH at a site in Maryland was below 5 and that resulted in complete sequestration of phosphorus and no movement toward the stream. Geochemical modeling indicated that as the surfaces approached saturation, groundwater concentrations of ortho P rise rapidly.
Additional publication details
Subsurface transport of orthophosphate in five agricultural watersheds, USA
Journal of Hydrology
California Water Science Center, Oregon Water Science Center