Modeling riverine nitrate export from an east-central Illinois watershed using SWAT

X. Hu, G. F. McIsaac, M. B. David, C. A.L. Louwers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reliable water quality models arc needed to forecast the water quality consequences of different agricultural nutrient management scenarios. In this study, the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), version 2000, was applied to simulate streamflow, riverine nitrate (NO3) export, crop yield, and watershed nitrogen (N) budgets in the upper Embarras River (UER) watershed in east-central Illinois, which has extensive maize-soybean cultivation, large N fertilizer input, and extensive tile drainage. During the calibration (1994-2002) and validation (1985-1993) periods, SWAT simulated monthly and annual stream flows with Nash-Sutcliffe coefficients (E) ranging from 0.67 to 0.94 and R2 from 0.75 to 0.95. For monthly and annual NO3 loads, E ranged from -0.16 to 0.45 and R2 from 0.36 to 0.74. Annual maize and soybean yields were simulated with relative errors ranging from -10 to 6%. The model was then used to predict the changes in NO3 output with N fertilizer application rates 10 to 50% lower than original application rates in UER. The calibrated SWAT predicted a 10 to 43% decrease in NO 3 export from UER and a 6 to 38% reduction in maize yield in response to the reduction in N fertilizer. The SWAT model markedly overestimated NO 3 export during major wet periods. Moreover, SWAT estimated soybean N fixation rates considerably greater than literature values, and some simulated changes in the N cycle in response to fertilizer reduction seemed to be unrealistic. Improving these aspects of SWAT could lead to more reliable predictions in the water quality outcomes of nutrient management practices in tile-drained watersheds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)996-1005
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Modeling riverine nitrate export from an east-central Illinois watershed using SWAT'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this