• Good water status: The integration of sustainable grassland production and water resources in Ireland

      Richards, Karl G.; Fenton, Owen; Khalil, Mohammed I.; Haria, Atul H.; Humphreys, James; Doody, Donnacha G.; Moles, Richard; Morgan, Ger; Jordan, Philip; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland; et al. (School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin in association with Teagasc, 2009)
      The challenge for sustainable grassland production is to integrate economically profitable farming systems with environmental protection. The Water Framework Directive aims to attain at least “good status” for all waters by 2015, to be achieved through the introduction of measures across all sectors of society. Historically, the impact of grassland agriculture on water quality was investigated in isolation. More recently it has been highlighted that water quality and other environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions must be considered in an integrated manner. Catchment hydrology is critical to understanding the drivers behind nutrient transport to surface water and groundwaters. Flashy catchments are more susceptible to phosphorus, sediment and ammonium loss, whereas contrastingly baseflow dominated catchments are more susceptible to nitrate transport. Understanding catchment hydrology enables the targeting of measures for the mitigation of diffuse agricultural contaminants. This increased understanding can also be used to support extended deadlines for the achievement of good status. This paper reviews the potential effects of grassland agriculture on water quantity and the transport of pesticides and nutrients to water in the context of achieving good status for all waters by 2015 under the Water Framework Directive.
    • Mobilisation or dilution? Nitrate response of karst springs to high rainfall events

      Huebsch, Manuela; Fenton, Owen; Horan, Brendan; Hennessy, Deirdre; Richards, Karl G.; Jordan, Philip; Goldscheider, N.; Butscher, C.; Blum, P.; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (European Geosciences Union, 05/11/2014)
      Nitrate (NO3−) contamination of groundwater associated with agronomic activity is of major concern in many countries. Where agriculture, thin free draining soils and karst aquifers coincide, groundwater is highly vulnerable to nitrate contamination. As residence times and denitrification potential in such systems are typically low, nitrate can discharge to surface waters unabated. However, such systems also react quickest to agricultural management changes that aim to improve water quality. In response to storm events, nitrate concentrations can alter significantly, i.e. rapidly decreasing or increasing concentrations. The current study examines the response of a specific karst spring situated on a grassland farm in South Ireland to rainfall events utilising high-resolution nitrate and discharge data together with on-farm borehole groundwater fluctuation data. Specifically, the objectives of the study are to formulate a scientific hypothesis of possible scenarios relating to nitrate responses during storm events, and to verify this hypothesis using additional case studies from the literature. This elucidates the controlling key factors that lead to mobilisation and/or dilution of nitrate concentrations during storm events. These were land use, hydrological condition and karstification, which in combination can lead to differential responses of mobilised and/or diluted nitrate concentrations. Furthermore, the results indicate that nitrate response in karst is strongly dependent on nutrient source, whether mobilisation and/or dilution occur and on the pathway taken. This will have consequences for the delivery of nitrate to a surface water receptor. The current study improves our understanding of nitrate responses in karst systems and therefore can guide environmental modellers, policy makers and drinking water managers with respect to the regulations of the European Union (EU) Water Framework Directive (WFD). In future, more research should focus on the high-resolution monitoring of karst aquifers to capture the high variability of hydrochemical processes, which occur at time intervals of hours to days.
    • Variations in travel time for N loading to groundwaters in four case studies in Ireland:Implications for policy makers and regulators

      Fenton, Owen; Coxon, Catherine E.; Haria, Atul H.; Horan, Brendan; Humphreys, James; Johnston, Paul; Murphy, Paul N. C.; Necpalova, Magdalena; Premrov, Alina; Richards, Karl G. (School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin in association with Teagasc, 2009)
      Mitigation measures to protect waterbodies must be implemented by 2012 to meet the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive. The efficacy of these measures will be assessed in 2015. Whilst diffuse N pathways between source and receptor are generally long and complex, EU legislation does not account for differences in hydrological travel time distributions that may result in different water quality response times. The “lag time” between introducing mitigation measures and first improvements in water quality is likely to be different in different catchments; a process that should be considered by policy makers and catchment managers. Many examples of travel time variations have been quoted in the literature but no Irish specific examples are available. Lag times based on initial nutrient breakthrough at four contrasting sites were estimated to a receptor 500 m away from a source. Vertical travel times were estimated using a combination of depth of infiltration calculations based on effective rainfall and subsoil physical parameters and existing hydrological tracer data. Horizontal travel times were estimated using a combination of Darcian linear velocity calculations and existing tracer migration data. Total travel times, assuming no biogeochemical processes, ranged from months to decades between the contrasting sites; the shortest times occurred under thin soil/subsoil on karst limestone and the longest times through thick low permeability soils/subsoils over poorly productive aquifers. Policy makers should consider hydrological lag times when assessing the efficacy of mitigation measures introduced under the Water Framework Directive. This lag time reflects complete flushing of a particular nutrient from source to receptor. Further research is required to assess the potential mitigation of nitrate through denitrification along the pathway from source to receptor.