Continuous ‘Passive’ Registration of Non-Point Contaminant Loads Via Agricultural Subsurface Drain Tubes
Abstract:Considering their crucial role in water and solute transport, enhanced monitoring and modeling of agricultural subsurface tube drain systems is important for adequate water quality management. For example, previous work in lowland agricultural catchments has shown that subsurface tube drain effluent contributed up to 80% of the annual discharge and 90-92% of the annual NO3 loads from agricultural fields towards the surface water. However, existing monitoring techniques for flow and contaminant loads from tube drains are expensive and labor-intensive. Therefore, despite the unambiguous relevance of this transport route, tube drain monitoring data are scarce.
The presented study aimed developing a cheap, simple, and robust method to monitor loads from tube drains. We are now ready to introduce the Flowcap that can be attached to the outlet of tube drains and is capable of registering total flow, contaminant loads, and flow-averaged concentrations. The Flowcap builds on the existing SorbiCells, a modern passive sampling technique that measures average concentrations over longer periods of time (days to months) for various substances. By mounting SorbiCells in our Flowcap, a flow-proportional part of the drain effluent is sampled from the main stream. Laboratory testing yielded good linear relations (R-squared of 0.98) between drainage flow rates and sampling rates. The Flowcap was tested in practice for measuring NO3 loads from two agricultural fields and one glasshouse in the Netherlands.
The Flowcap registers contaminant loads from tube drains without any need for housing, electricity, or maintenance. This enables large-scale monitoring of non-point contaminant loads via tube drains, which would facilitate the improvement of contaminant transport models and would yield valuable information for the selection and evaluation of mitigation options to improve water quality.