Riparian zones of many incised channels in agricultural regions are cropped to the channel edge leaving them unvegetated for large portions of the year. In this study we evaluated surface and groundwater interaction in the riparian zone of an incised stream during a spring high flow period using detailed stream stage and hydraulic head data from six wells, and water quality sampling to determine whether the riparian zone can be a source of nitrate pollution to streams. Study results indicated that bank storage of stream water from Walnut Creek during a large storm water runoff event was limited to a narrow 1.6 m zone immediately adjacent to the channel. Nitrate concentrations in riparian groundwater were highest near the incised stream where the unsaturated zone was thickest. Nitrate and dissolved oxygen concentrations and nitrate-chloride ratios increased during a spring recharge period then decreased in the latter portion of the study. We used MODFLOW and MT3DMS to evaluate dilution and denitrification processes that would contribute to decreasing nitrate concentrations in riparian groundwater over time. MT3DMS model simulations were improved with a denitrification rate of 0.02 1/d assigned to the floodplain sediments implying that denitrification plays an important role in reducing nitrate concentrations in groundwater. We conclude that riparian zones of incised channels can potentially be a source of nitrate to streams during spring recharge periods when the near-stream riparian zone is largely unvegetated. ?? 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Groundwater-surface water interaction in the riparian zone of an incised channel, Walnut Creek, Iowa