Retention Basin Dedicated as Water Conservation, Nitrate Reducing System

water retention basinA new off-season water retention basin at Southeast Missouri State University’s David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center was dedicated today, launching a collaborative research effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service to conserve water, improve quality groundwater and reduce surface water pollution.

Ultimately, the project is expected to benefit ground water withdrawal throughout the lower Mississippi, including in Arkansas and other states where a major need exists to preserve quality groundwater for future generations, according to Dr. Mike Aide, chair of Southeast’s Department of Agriculture.

“We are introducing a system for a decade of quality research that will provide the University national recognition,” he said.

Officials with Southeast and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) were on hand for the ceremony today. The dedication marks the completion last month of the $82,856 project funded, in part, with a $50,000 USDA grant.

Vargas tractor

Southeast President Dr. Carlos Vargas (in tractor cab) and a group of USDA representatives, and Southeast and Arkansas State University faculty and staff members, and students, participate in a tour leading to the new water retention basin.

With the implementation of the off-season water retention basin, Southeast now boasts the largest system of its kind in the Midwest and the most evaluated system anywhere, Aide said.

As the basin is brought online, water will be pumped from the Center’s subsurface controlled drainage and irrigation system into the off-season water retention basin in winter and stored until irrigation water is required. Water will then be pumped back into the drainage system to maintain a perched water table for irrigation of corn and soybeans, Aide said.

The resulting benefit of the new technology is that nitrates — nitrogen and phosphorus, which are major water contaminants — will be recycled as fertilizer. Previously, contaminants would have been drained from the soil to remove excess water and placed into fresh water resources, such as Williams Creek.

Nitrates in water sources such as creeks and aquifers are an emerging health issue for the nation and especially in the Midwest, Aide said.

“Nitrates are a result of natural and fertilization processes,” he said. “If they leach below the crop rooting system into an aquifer, that is a form of pollution to our drinking water.”

Aide with corn

Dr. Mike Aide, chair of the Department of Agriculture, highlights corn as a key component of the agricultural economy of southeast Missouri and the Midwest during the dedication of the new water retention basin at the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center.

With the new system, these nutrients are considered valuable fertilizers. In addition, most of the water drained from the soil to be stored in the off-season basin will be captured and used in the late spring and summer when rainfall is less abundant. The new technology is expected to reduce water requirements for irrigation and reliance on water from aquifers.

Aide says the cost of holding the water in the basin is minimal relative to the costs associated with irrigation.

“In Arkansas and other regions and states, aquifer withdrawal is overtaxing the aquifers, resulting in diminished water supplies for cities and town,” Aide said. “This water conservation technology will be valuable for securing enough water for multiple users.”

The basin, which encompasses about an acre and can hold an estimated 3.4 million gallons of irrigation water, is located on the northwest side of the Center next to the crop science unit. Birk Trucking, Inc., of Jackson, Missouri, served as the contractor on the project which began in late June.

Aide says the basin will serve as a focal point for students to conduct chemistry and soil research in the coming year with a particular emphasis on analyzing nitrates. Students enrolled in Soil Fertility, Water Management and Hydrology courses will participate in the research, he said.