Modeling the applicability of edge-of-field treatment wetlands to reduce nitrate loads in the Elm Creek watershed in southern Minnesota, United States

B. A. Gordon, C. Lenhart, J. Nieber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Constructed agricultural treatment wetlands are key tools for removing nitrate (NO3) from surface waters. Due to limited funds for NO3 removal practices, investments need to be in the most cost-effective practices. Furthermore, NO3 removal practices that take less land out of production may be more appealing for farmers.Therefore, three types of wetlands were compared to determine NO3 removal effectiveness and cost effectiveness across a watershed. The three wetland types included large wetlands with drainage areas greater than 60 ha; small, edge-of-field wetlands with drainage areas covering fewer than 60 ha; and small, edge-of-field wetlands with a dual treatment system of surface treatment and subsurface treatment following infiltration.The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) toolbox model was used to determine best placements for each wetland type in the Elm Creek watershed in southern Minnesota, United States.The Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model was used to estimate the volume of tile discharge and nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) concentration into each wetland over a 10-year period. A spreadsheet model was used to estimate the reductions of NO3 in each wetland over the same 10-year period. Small, edge-of-field wetlands with a saturated hydraulic conductivity (Ksat) of 0.17 m d–1 were more effective at removing NO3 for the area removed from crop production in order to create the wetland (kg ha–1 y–1) and as cost effective (US$ kg–1 NO3-N removed) as the large wetlands. When the small wetlands had a low Ksat (8.64 × 10–5 m d–1), they were more effective for each area removed from crop production (p = 0.06) but not as cost effective (p = 0.003). This study suggests that constructing many small, edge-of-field treatment wetlands with high conductivity, dual-treatment systems to reach nutrient reduction goals would cost the same as constructing large wetlands but would remove fewer hectares of cropland from production. If landowners are interested in removing only a few hectares from crop production at a time, the wetland restoration would possibly still be beneficial. Minimum hectares should not be a limitation for restoration program enrollment as long as the wetland to watershed area ratio is still viable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-456
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Soil and Water Conservation
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Ashley Brenke (district manager), Dustin Benes (district technician), and Richard Perrine (district technician) of Martin Soil and Water Conservation District provided assistance in water quality data collection, and the Darwin Roberts family allowed the research project to take place on their land for the Granada wetland. Numerous faculty and students at the University of Minnesota provided input and guidance for running each model in this study. This study was one chapter of a PhD dissertation in Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota. Research at the Granada wetland was supported by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture through the Clean Water Legacy Fund and by the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Soil Conservation Society of America. All rights reserved.


  • Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework
  • Agricultural best management practices
  • Nitrate-nitrogen
  • Soil and Water Assessment Tool
  • Treatment wetlands
  • Watershed modeling


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