Advancing the food-energy-water nexus: Closing nutrient loops in arid river corridors

TitleAdvancing the food-energy-water nexus: Closing nutrient loops in arid river corridors
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsMortenson JG, González-Pinzón R, Dahm CN, Wang J, Zeglin LH, Van Horn DJ
JournalEnviron Sci Technol
Date PublishedIn Press
Accession NumberSEV.753

Closing nutrient loops in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is integral to achieve resource security in the food-energy-water (FEW) nexus. We performed multiyear (2005−2008), monthly sampling of instream dissolved inorganic nutrient concentrations (NH4−N, NO3−N, soluble reactive phosphorus-SRP) along a ∼ 300-km arid-land river (Rio Grande, NM) and generated nutrient budgets to investigate how the net source/sink behavior of wastewater and irrigated agriculture can be holistically managed to improve water quality and close nutrient loops. Treated wastewater on average contributed over 90% of the instream dissolved inorganic nutrients (101 kg/day NH4−N, 1097 kg/day NO3−N, 656 kg/day SRP). During growing seasons, the irrigation network downstream of wastewater outfalls retained on average 37% of NO3−N and 45% of SRP inputs, with maximum retention exceeding 60% and 80% of NO3−N and SRP inputs, respectively. Accurate quantification of NH4−N retention was hindered by low loading and high variability. Nutrient retention in the irrigation network and instream processes together limited downstream export during growing seasons, with total retention of 33−99% of NO3−N inputs and 45−99% of SRP inputs. From our synoptic analysis, we identify trade-offs associated with wastewater reuse for agriculture within the scope of the FEW nexus and propose strategies for closing nutrient loops in arid-land rivers.