Groundwater recharge under compacted agriculturalsoils, pineand prairie in Central Wisconsin, USA

A. M. Radatz, B. Lowery, W. L. Bland, A. E. Hartemink

Resumen


The water table in Wisconsin Central Sand Plain (CSP) dropped 1.8 m between 2002 and 2010, and several lakes in the area suffer from low water levels. The lower groundwater level has been attributed to agricultural cropping practices, specifically irrigation, and a reduction in ground-water recharge. Dominant soils in this area are sands (Udipsamments). The objective of our research was to quantify groundwater recharge under (i) irrigated agricultural crops, (ii) prairie, and (iii) a 50-year old pine tree plantation in the CSP. Equipment was installed at five sites to monitor water table elevation, soil water content, and precipitation at 15-minute intervals. It was found that, when the soil was at field moisture capacity, precipitation during the growing season resulted in 1.4 cm more water table rise under a prairie than under irrigated agricultural fields. Agricultural crops used groundwater through irrigation, but natural vegetation relied on soil available water, and capillary rise of water from the shallow groundwater table (1 to 2 m to water table), for daily transpiration. After snowmelt, prairie vegetation yielded greater rise, up to 16 cm, in the water table than agricultural fields. Lack  of crop residue on the soil surface of agricultural fields resulted in a continuous layer of frost in the soil profile that extended to about a meter depth. This thick, frozen layer was enhanced by greater soil compaction under irrigated crops compared to limited or no compaction in prairie areas. The key finding was that this deep frost in the soil profile inhibited snowmelt water from infiltrating and recharging the groundwater. Thus, compacted-irrigated agricultural soils in the CSP alter groundwater recharge characteristics during frozen and non-frozen ground periods. Increased crop residues on the surface of agricultural fields might enhance groundwater recharge during winter snow melt periods.


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