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Bacterial leaching from dairy shed effluent

Abstract

This experiment investigated bacterial transport from land-applied dairy shed effluent (DSE), via field lysimeter studies, using 2 contrasting irrigation methods. Transient water flow and bacterial transport were studied, and the factors controlling faecal coliform (FC) transport are discussed. Two trials (Trial 1, summer; Trial 2, autumn) were carried out, using 6 undisturbed soil monolith lysimeters, 500 mm diameter by 700 mm deep, with a free-draining, Templeton fine sandy loam. DSE with inert chemical tracers was applied at the start of both trials using the same method, followed with repeated 14-day cycles of either flood or spray irrigation of water. A bacterial tracer, antibiotic-resistant faecal coliform, was added to the DSE in Trial 2 only, to distinguish applied FC from external or resident FC. Leachates were collected after each water application (or heavy rainfall when applicable) for enumeration of FC and measurement of tracers. All lysimeters were instrumented for monitoring volumetric water content, matric potential, and soil temperature at 4 depths (100, 250, 450, and 600 mm). The results showed that bacteria could readily penetrate through 700-mm-deep soil columns, when facilitated by water flow. The highest post-water irrigation concentration was 3.4 × 103 cfu/100 mL under flood irrigation, which resulted in more bacterial and Br– leaching than spray irrigation. Trial 2 (autumn) results also showed significant differences between irrigation treatments in lysimeters sharing similar drainage class (moderate or moderately rapid), flood irrigation again gave more bacterial and tracer (Cl–) leaching. In the summer trial, FC in leachate as high as 1.4 × 106 cfu/100 mL, similar to the concentration of DSE, was detected in one lysimeter that had a higher clay content in the topsoil immediately after DSE application, and before any water irrigation. This indicates that applied DSE leached through preferential flow paths without any dilution. Bacterial concentration in the leachate was positively correlated with both volumetric water content and water potential, and sometimes drainage rate. Greater bacterial leaching was found in the lysimeter with rapid whole-column effective hydraulic conductivity, Keff, for both flood and spray treatments. Occasionally, the effect of Keff on water movement and bacterial transport overrode the effect of irrigation. The ‘seasonal condition’ of the soil (including variation in initial water content) also influenced bacterial leaching, with less risk of leaching in autumn than in summer. These findings contribute to our increased understanding of bacterial transport processes on the field scale.

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