Agricultural practices, hydrology, and water quality of the 267-km2 Big Spring groundwater drainage basin in Clayton County, Iowa, have been monitored since 1981. Land use is agricultural; nitrate-nitrogen (-N) and herbicides are the resulting contaminants in groundwater and surface water. Ordovician Galena Group carbonate rocks comprise the main aquifer in the basin. Recharge to this karstic aquifer is by infiltration, augmented by sinkhole-captured runoff. Groundwater is discharged at Big Spring, where quantity and quality of the discharge are monitored. Monitoring has shown a threefold increase in groundwater nitrate-N concentrations from the 1960s to the early 1980s. The nitrate-N discharged from the basin typically is equivalent to over one-third of the nitrogen fertilizer applied, with larger losses during wetter years. Atrazine is present in groundwater all year; however, contaminant concentrations in the groundwater respond directly to recharge events, and unique chemical signatures of infiltration versus runoff recharge are detectable in the discharge from Big Spring. Education and demonstration efforts have reduced nitrogen fertilizer application rates by one-third since 1981. Relating declines in nitrate and pesticide concentrations to inputs of nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides at Big Spring is problematic. Annual recharge has varied five-fold during monitoring, overshadowing any water-quality improvements resulting from incrementally decreased inputs. ?? Springer-Verlag 2001.
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Results from the Big Spring basin water quality monitoring and demonstration projects, Iowa, USA