Impacts of environmental stressors on nonpoint source pollution in intensively managed hydrologic systems

A. Botero-Acosta, M. L. Chu, C. Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agricultural practices intended to increase productivity can adversely affect our soil and water resources. Expected changes in climate and other social pressure are anticipated to exacerbate these impacts jeopardizing the sustainability of the agro-ecosystems. Watershed Management Practices (WMPs) are meant to achieve a rational use of resources as well as enhance ecosystem resilience to climate change. However, the effectiveness of WMPs depends on the complex interactions between processes occurring across the watershed. The objective of this study was to simulate the impacts of WMPs and projected climate on the sediment and nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) stream loads in an intensively managed watershed. The modeling framework was developed with the physically-based distributed model Mike SHE for the Upper Sangamon River Basin (USRB), an agricultural watershed in central Illinois. The fate and transport of sediment and NO3-N in the watershed and rivers was simulated using a generic advection-dispersion equation (ADE) with NO3-N and sediment as the main species. Results showed that non-structural WMPs, such as crop rotation and cover crops, presented the highest reductions of simulated NO3-N and sediment load, respectively, while structural WMPs had higher area-efficiency performance. On the other hand, climate conditions had a strong impact on the transport of both pollutants due to water fluxes alterations especially for a future dry climate scenario. Sediment transport was shown to be more sensitive to climate given that rainfall is one of the main drivers of the erosion processes. Outcomes from this research will give a more comprehensive approach toward understanding the impacts of environmental stressors at a watershed scale, and how they may be propagated to ecological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124056
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Dec 2019


  • Advection-dispersion equation
  • Hydrologic model
  • MIKE 11
  • Nonpoint source pollution
  • Transport model
  • Water management practices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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