Effects of subsurface drainage tiles on streamflow in Iowa agricultural watersheds: Exploratory hydrograph analysis

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Flow from artificial subsurface (tile) drainage systems may be contributing to increasing baseflow in Midwestern rivers and increased losses of nitrate-nitrogen. Standard hydrograph analysis techniques were applied to model simulation output and field monitoring from tile-drained landscapes to explore how flow from drainage tiles affects stream baseflow and streamflow recession characteristics. DRAINMOD was used to simulate hydrologic response from drained (24 m tile spacing) and undrained agricultural systems. Hydrograph analysis was conducted using programs PART and RECESS. Field monitoring data were obtained from several monitoring sites in Iowa typical of heavily drained and less-drained regions. Results indicate that flow from tile drainage primarily affects the baseflow portion of a hydrograph, increasing annual baseflow in streams with seasonal increases primarily occurring in the late spring and early summer months. Master recession curves from tile-drained watersheds appear to be more linear than less-tiled watersheds although comparative results of the recession index k were inconsistent. Considering the magnitude of non-point source pollutant loads coming from tile-drained landscapes, it is critical that more in-depth research and analysis be done to assess the effects of tile drainage on watershed hydrology if water quality solutions are to be properly evaluated.

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