Effect of Optimal Water Management for Sustainable and Profitable Crop Production and Improvement of Water Quality in Red River Valley
This project focuses on optimal water management on production land, with subsurface drainage being applied in spring and fall, controlled drainage (CD) in late spring, and subirrigation (SI) in summer depending on soil moisture conditions. Due to a severe drought condition in 2012, soil moisture was depleted in fall 2012 before the winter started. Large cracks and macropores were seen in many fields. During snowmelting time in spring 2013, much of the water infiltrated into the soils and provided a good moisture condition for planting. However, when 120 mm of rainfall occurred in late May and another 147 mm in June, the undrained (UD) field without subsurface drainage suffered from waterlogged conditions and water table was near the soil surface for about a month. The CD field had the best soil moisture condition because 75% of the drainage water was saved in the field compared to the field with free subsurface drainage (FD). SI was only applied for two weeks according to the soil moisture condition and crop water requirement as well as economic considerations. A project evaluation day was conducted on September 13 with 33 invited attendees, representing producer, researcher, state agencies, watershed districts, and industry from both MN and ND. A field tour was centered between the morning meeting and afternoon discussions. A follow-up survey was conducted for three focus groups, but the results showed one highlighted interest, that is subirrigation. The project team has been invited to give numerous presentations on subirrigation and drainage water management in the region. The team also designed and constructed two small demonstration models and developed a video to show how subirrigation works. We believe that the project outcome in 2013 was successful and we have achieved our goals as it was planned.
In 2013, we worked on the following objectives:
- Measure water table changes and distributions in the undrained, free drained, control drained, and control drained plus subirrigated fields;
- Monitor water quality (e.g. nitrate, phosphorus, turbidity, salinity, etc.) in the upper and down streams of the subirrigation intake, drainage outlet structures, and surface runoff ditches; and
- Measure crop evapotranspiration rates and soil moisture changes in each of the four fields (e.g. each field utilizes a different water management system).
Objective 1 – Water Table
Water table was monitored with three pairs of observation wells (2 m depth), randomly located in the upper, middle and bottom part of the four treatment fields. For each pair, one well is located close to the tile and the other is at the midway between two tile lines. A water level transducer was installed in each of the 24 wells, which automatically records water level changes every hour. The hourly water table data in the middle part of the four fields are shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 showed that water table was close to soil surface for the UD field after heavy rainfall occurred in late May and June. With subsurface drainage, water table was controlled at about 1 m below soil surface. With the additional moisture, subirrigation was only applied for two weeks from July 30 to August 14 in 2013. During the SI process, it is unknown if the irrigation water was moving faster in the drain or in the soil, or whether the water reaches the midpoint between two tile lines. Figure 2 shows that the water table changes during the subirrigation process at the upper, middle and bottom part of the SI field.
From Figure 2, it is easy to conclude that water was flowing faster in the pipe than that in the soil because water table rose at the bottom of the field, instead of the header of the SI system. We can also conclude that the SI was not supplying water to the midpoint between two drains. This is probably because either the space was too wide for SI, or the SI application rate and amount were not sufficient to subirrigate the entire soil between two tile drains. Or, the SI water was uniformly applied, while the difference might be caused due to the topographic difference. Figure 3 shows the elevation changes along the soil surface and the associated water table depths over the tile drains at 9:00 am on August 5, 2013.
From Figure 3, despite the topographic and drain location difference along the field profile, the water table depth over the drain was closer to the soil surface at the bottom of the SI system (or the west edge of the field). This leads us to believe that SI water flows faster in tile drain, and slower in soils between two drains. If given sufficient water or time, water should flow to the soils between two drains as seen in Figure 2.
Objective 2 – Water Quality
Water quality in County Drainage Ditch 39 is being monitored in order to determine whether SI can improve water quality in the surface water. Water depth, turbidity, electrical conductivity (EC) and pH were measured continuously at the upper and down streams of the SI field, but two big rainfall storms in late May and June washed away the sensors and damaged the datalogger. Therefore, those parameters were measured manually at a weekly schedule during field visit. Water samples were also collected weekly at the upper and down streams and at the two control drainage flow structures, located near the outlet for the CD/SI field. Chemical analysis of these water samples, in the upper and lower streams, is shown in Figure 4. The results indicated that, except a slightly higher EC values in the downstream, the SI process (from July 30 to August 14) improved the water quality for a reduction of PO4-P and NO3-N through impoundment or subirrigation. In other times, the down and up streams should have a similar water quality.
The nutrient levels in the ditch were very high from late May to late June, related to two large rainfall events at the same time. During that time, the NO3-N was 60-70 mg/L and PO4-P was 0.9 mg/L. The NO3-N level in the drainage effluent was similar to that in the ditch, indicating that the higher NO3-N in the ditch was related to the high percentage of subsurface drainage in that watershed. Without controlled drainage, drainage water flowed out of the field until the middle of July. With controlled drainage, the high level of NO3-N in the ditch will not be a result from this experimental field because most of the drainage outflow was controlled in the field. Figure 5 shows the water quality levels in the controlled drainage (CD), and controlled drainage plus subirrigation (SI) fields.
There were a rise of pH values, and lower EC and NO3-N concentrations in the SI field during the SI process which needs to be explored further.
Objective 3 – Evapotranspiration
Water balance components, including rainfall, snowfall, snow equivalent water content, evapotranspiration (ET), soil moisture changes, surface runoff, drainage outflow, subirrigation amount, and water level changes are all measured in the field continuously for the entire duration of the project. V-notch weirs with standard 90 degree angle were constructed and installed at the culvert. Water level transducers are used to measure the water level changes. Though we did not see any surface runoff in 2012, the V-notch weirs encountered surface runoff in 2013.
At the SI site, ET is measured by three methods, eddy covariance (Eddy), soil moisture deficit (SMD), and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). However, at the CD site, ET is only measured by SMD method and at the UD and FD sites, ET is only measured by the PAR method. A conference paper was published for ET comparisons among the three methods. All weather stations and soil moisture sensors are setup to run in the winter time, so they can be remotely accessed through either cellular or radio devices. The soil moisture and temperature profile data have been shared with the National Weather Service to help their flood forecast in the Red River Valley. Figures 6 and 7 showed the soil moisture and temperature changes in the SI field in 2013.
From Figures 6 and 7, we saw that soil moisture was higher and soil temperature was warmer at the midpoint between drains than that over the drain. A gradual increase in soil moisture in spring time was observed at the midpoint, while a sharp increase in soil moisture throughout the entire soil profile was observed over the drains. Comparing to spring and fall 2013, the soil was much wetter for soils deeper than 30 cm, and was not frozen below 30 cm depth.
Crop yield maps were constructed for the CD and SI fields. The results showed that there was only 3 bu/ac more with SI comparing to CD, possibly because SI was only applied for 0.16 in in two weeks. However, the average yields in the CD and SI fields were 174 and 177 bu/ac, respectively. This corn yield was much higher than the average corn yield in this region, indicating that crop yield was increased due to the CD. Therefore, we can conclude that crop yield is increased, and water quality is improved due to the CD and SI practices based on information in 2013.
- Figure 2. Water table variations at the upper, middle and bottom of the subirrigation flow in the control drained and subirrigated (SI) field in 2013.
- Figure 3. Water table depths, tile drainage location and soil surface elevation during a subirrigation process flowing from east to the west of the field at 9:00 am on August 5, 2013. The blue bars are the water table depth over the drain and the red bars are the water table depth at midpoint between two drains.
- Figure 4. Water quality in the downstream and upstream of the subirrigation system, while subirrigation occurred from July 30 to August 14, 2013.
- Figure 5. Water quality levels in the controlled drainage (CD) and controlled drainage plus subirrigation (SI) outlet, while SI was applied from July 30 to August 14, 2013.
- Figure 6. Soil temperature and moisture changes in the soil profile over a drain in the subirrigation field in 2013.
- Figure 7. Soil temperature and moisture changes in the soil profile at the midpoint between two drains in the subirrigation field in 2013.
- Figure 1. Water table comparisons among undrained (UD), conventional free drained (FD), controlled drained (CD), and control drained plus subirrigation (SI) fields in 2013.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This project is to evaluate whether optimal water management through drainage and subirrigation can be used to increase farmer’s profit and improve water quality for the entire community.
- Jia, X. 2013. Subirrigation research – putting water into drain tile. ND Irrigation Workshop, Bismarck, ND. December 12, 2013. Presentation by Jia.
- Jia, X. 2013. Subirrigation research in North Dakota. MN Drainage Water Management Conference, Alexandria, MN. December 5, 2013.Presentation by Jia.
- Jia, X. 2013. Subirrigation research in North Dakota. IA-MN-SD Drainage Forum, Sioux Falls, SD. November 14, 2013. Presentation by Jia.
- Jia, X., Ransom, J., and Roy, D. 2013. Raising corn in Northern Climates with plastic mulch. Fargo, ND. September 10, 2013. Presentation by Jia.
- Jia, X. 2013. Impact of water resources and quality on crop production and environment. Xinjiang Agricultural University. Urumqi, Xinjiang, China. July 29, 2013. Presentation by Jia.
- Jia, X. 2013. Impact of water resources and quality on natural resources and environment. Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Urumqi, Xinjiang, China. July 30, 2013. Presentation by Jia.
- Kolars, K., X. Jia, D. Steele, T. Scherer, and T. DeSutter. 2013. Using eddy covariance, soil water deficit, and photosynthetically active radiation methods for corn evapotranspiration measurements in the Red River Valley. 2013 ASABE Annual International Meeting. Kansas City, Missouri. July 21-24, 2013. Presentation by Kolars.
- Horntvedt, K., X. Jia, T. Scherer, D. Steele, and T. DeSutter. 2013. Methods, techniques, and considerations for subirrigation practices in the Red River Valley of the North. 2013 ASABE Annual International Meeting. Kansas City, Missouri. July 21-24, 2013. Presentation by Horntvedt.
- Jia, X., and T. Scherer. 2013. Reducing cost of water quality monitoring in tile drainage outflow using electrical conductivity as a surrogate. Seventh International Conference on Irrigation and Drainage. April 15-19, 2013. Phoenix, AZ. Presentation by Jia.
- Jia, X. 2013. North Dakota State Drainage Research Report. NCERA 217 Annual Meeting, Sioux Falls, SD. April 9-11, 2013. Presentation by Jia.
- Jia, X., T. Scherer, D. Steele, and T. DeSutter. 2013. Effect of optimal water management for sustainable and profitable crop production and improvement of water quality in Red River Valley – subirrigation system. 2013 Extension Subsurface Drainage Design and Water Management Workshop, February 12-13, 2013. Moorhead, MN. Presentation by Jia.
- Jia, X., T. F. Scherer, D. Lin, X. Zhang, and I. Rijal. 2014. Comparison of reference evapotranspiration calculations for southeastern North Dakota. Irrigation & Drainage Systems Engineering. Accepted.
- Rahman, M. M., Z. Lin, X. Jia, D. D. Steele, and T. M. DeSutter. 2014. Impact of subsurface drainage on streamflows in the Red River of the North basin. Journal of Hydrology. Accepted.
- He, Y., T. M. DeSutter, D. Hopkins, L. Prunty, X. Jia, and D. Wysocki. 2013. Relating the value of EC1:5 to ECe of the saturated paste extract. Canadian Journal of Soil Science. 93: 585-594.
- Jia, X., and T. Scherer. 2013. Reducing cost of water quality monitoring in tile drainage outflow using electrical conductivity as a surrogate In Using 21st Century Technology to Better Manage Irrigation Water Supplies, Seventh International Conference on Irrigation and Drainage Proceedings. Edited by Wallin, B. T., and S. S. Anderson. U.S. Committee on Irrigation and Drainage, Denver, CO. Pp 213-225.
- Rijal, S., X. Zhang, and X. Jia. 2013. Estimating surface soil moisture in the Red River Valley of the North Basin using Landsat 5 TM data. Soil Science Society of American Journal 77:1133-1143.
- Kolars, K., X. Jia, D. Steele, T. Scherer, and T. DeSutter. 2013. Using eddy covariance, soil water deficit, and photosynthetically active radiation methods for corn evapotranspiration measurements in the Red River Valley. 2013 ASABE Annual International Meeting. July 21-24, 2013, Kansas City, Missouri. Paper No. 131591426.
- Horntvedt, K., X. Jia, T. Scherer, D. Steele, and T. DeSutter. 2013. Methods, techniques, and considerations for subirrigation practices in the Red River Valley of the North. 2013 ASABE Annual International Meeting. July 21-24, 2013, Kansas City, Missouri. Paper No. 131618357.
- September 13, 2013. Host a field tour to visit the USDA SARE research site with 33 attendees.
- August 7, 2013. Served as a tour site for NDSU extension to visit the USDA SARE research site with 12 attendees.
Project blog: http://aben-saregrant-ndsu.blogspot.com/
This blog was created with the intent to keep the public updated and informed about the research activities. Field pictures of field/lab experiments, small descriptions of our research activities, team member’s accomplishments/awards, will be periodically updated at the blog. It also creates an open communication form among professionals, researchers, farmers, and the general public.
Associate Professor and P.E.
North Dakota State University
NDSU Dept 7620, PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108
Office Phone: 7012317268
Associate Professor and Extension Agronomist
North Dakota State University
Dept of Plant Sciences
Fargo, ND 58108
Office Phone: 7012318135
Buffalo-Red River Watershed District
123 Front St. S.
Barnesville, MN 56514
Office Phone: 2183547710
Professor and Extension Engineer
University of Minnesota
1390 Eckles Ave
St. Paul, MN 55108
Office Phone: 6126254756
NDSU Dept. 7680, PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108
Office Phone: 7012318690
Associate Professor and Extension Engineer
NDSU Dept 7620, PO Box 6050
Fargo, ND 58108
Office Phone: 7012317239
Senior Planner on conservation drainage
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
625 Robert St. N
St. Paul, MN 55155
Office Phone: 6512016482
7276 50th St. N.
Glyndon, MN 56547