Geochemical and isotopic tracing of water in nested southern Minnesota corn-belt watersheds

J. A. Magner, S. C. Alexander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Land-use changes over the last century in southern Minnesota have influenced riverine water chemistry. A nested watershed approach was used to examine hydrologic pathways of water movement in this now agriculturally intensive region. From field scale subsurface tile-drains of the Beauford ditch to the respective outlets of the Cobb River and Blue Earth River, more than 125 samples were collected for major dissolved ions and isotopes between March 1994 and June 1996 over a range of climatic conditions that included snowmelt and storm-flows. Results indicate that riverine water chemistry is dominated by subsurface tile-drained row crop agriculture. In the mid-1990s, regional ground water discharge into the Cobb and Blue Earth Rivers comprised less than 10% of the total flow based on ionic mixing calculations. Ammonia, present in manure or as anhydrous, is readily exchanged in the soil. This ion exchange releases increasing ratios of magnesium, sodium and strontium relative to calcium, the dominant cation. Soil thaw and snowmelt recharge influenced March-April tile-drain and ditch water isotopic values. Light δD values increased as spring infiltration-derived water was displaced from the soil zone by heavier summer precipitation. δ15N followed a similar but opposite pattern with relatively heavy March-April tile-drain and ditch values trending to lighter δ15N through the growing season. The future of southern Minnesota riverine water quality is closely linked to the management of the landscape. To improve the riverine environment, land owners and managers will need to address cropping systems, fertilization practices and drainage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-42
Number of pages6
JournalWater Science and Technology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jun 22 2002


  • Drainage
  • Geochemical
  • Isotope
  • Land-use
  • Water quality
  • Watershed


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