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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Trade-offs between nitrogen and phosphorus removal with floodplain remediation in agricultural streams

Hallberg, Lukas; Hallin, Sara; Djodjic, Faruk; Bieroza, Magdalena

Abstract

To improve water quality and reduce instream erosion, floodplain remediation along agricultural streams can provide multiple ecosystem services through biogeochemical and fluvial processes. During floodplain inundation, longer water residence time and periodic anoxic conditions can lead to increased nitrogen (N) removal through denitrification but also mobilization of phosphorus (P), impeding overall water quality improvements. To investigate the capacity for N and P processing in remediated streams, we measured potential denitrification and nitrous oxide production and yields together with potential P desorption and P fractions in floodplain and stream sediments in ten catchments in Sweden. Sediment P desorption was measured as equilibrium P concentration, using P isotherm incubations. Denitrification rates were measured with the acetylene inhibition method. Sediment nutrient process rates were combined with hydrochemical monitoring along remediated streams and their paired upstream control reaches of trapezoidal shape to determine the impact of floodplains on water quality. The correlation between floodplain denitrification rates and P desorption (r = 0.53, p = 0.02) revealed a trade-off between soluble reactive P (SRP) and nitrate removal, driven by stream water connectivity to floodplains. Nitrous oxide production was not affected by differences in P processing, but nitrous oxide yields decreased with higher denitrification and P desorption. The release of SRP from floodplains (0.03 ± 0.41 mg P kg−1 day−1) was significantly lower than from trapezoidal stream banks (0.38 ± 0.37 mg P kg−1 day−1), predicted by long-term SRP concentrations in stream water and floodplain inundation frequency. The overall impact of SRP release from floodplains on stream SRP concentrations in remediated reaches was limited. However, the remediated reaches showing increased stream SRP concentrations were also frequently inundated and had higher labile P content and coarse soil texture in floodplain sediments. To fully realize the potential for water quality improvements with constructed floodplains in agricultural streams, the promotion of denitrification through increased inundation should be balanced against the risk of P release from sediments, particularly in streams with high SRP inputs.

Keywords

Phosphorus; Denitrification; Stream remediation; Floodplains; Eutrophication

Published in

Water Research
2024, Volume: 258, article number: 121770