The formation of hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico can be traced to agricultural watersheds in the Midwestern United States that are artificially drained in order to make the land suitable for agriculture. A number of best management practices (BMPs) have been introduced to improve the water quality in the region but their relative effectivenss of these BMPs in reducing nutrient load has not been properly quantified. In order to determine the BMPs useful for reducing nutrient discharge from a tile drained watershed, a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model was calibrated and validated for water flow and nitrate load using experimental data from the Little Vermillion River (LVR) watershed in east-central Illinois. Then, the performance of four common BMPs (reduced tillage, cover crop, filter strip and wetlands) were evaluated. For BMPs, the usage of rye as cover crop performed the best in reducing nitrate discharge from the watershed as a single BMP, with an average annual nitrate load reduction of 54.5%. Combining no tillage and rye cover crops had varying results over the period simulated, but the average nitrate reduction was better than using rye cover crops with conventional tillage, with the average annual nitrate discharge decreased by 60.5% (an improvement of 13% over rye only).
Motsinger, J., Kalita, P., & Bhattarai, R. (2016). Analysis of best management practices implementation on water quality using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool. Water (Switzerland), 8(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/w8040145