Using Polyacrylamide (PAM) for Reducing Sediment and Nutrient Losses from Cool Season Vegetable Fields

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  • 1 1University of California, Cooperative Extension, Monterey Co., Salinas, CA, 93901
  • | 2 2University of California, Dept. of Vegetable Crops, Salinas, CA, 93905

Agricultural runoff is a source of nutrients and sediments in surface water on the central coast of California. Treating soils with high molecular weight anionic polyacrylamide (PAM) may reduce sediments and P lost from furrow and sprinkler irrigated fields by maintaining infiltration and stabilizing soil aggregates. We conducted column and field studies to quantify the effect of PAM on infiltration rate, run off, and sediment and nutrient (ortho and total P, NO3, K) loss from cool season vegetable fields. Column studies demonstrated a reduction in infiltration for 10 soil types when PAM was continuously applied in the irrigation water at 10 ppm. Recirculating infiltrometer studies showed that in furrow systems, PAM, applied only in the initial water at 10 ppm, had no significant effect on infiltration at four of six sites evaluated. Turbidity and total suspended solids were significantly reduced in the PAM treated water. Across all sites, treatment with PAM reduced suspended solids by 85% compared to the untreated control. Additionally, soluble and total P, and total N were reduced in the PAM treated water. PAM had no effect on nitrate or salt levels in the runoff. PAM applied through sprinklers at a 5 ppm concentration was able to significantly reduce the turbidity and the suspended solids in the tailwater. Similar to the results obtained with the recirculation infiltrometer trials, PAM reduced soluble and total P and total N in the runoff, but had no significant effect on NO3-N. Total sediment loss under sprinklers was reduced by as much as 95% using PAM.

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