Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Eric D. Roy
Alteration of global nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycles to support livestock and crop production is the most significant driver of global nutrient surpluses. Losses of excess nutrients to the environment contribute to eutrophication of aquatic systems, leading to harmful algal blooms (HABs), hypoxia, and fish kills. Livestock and dairy production are directly linked to the acceleration of eutrophication via nutrient losses from animal manure. Lake Champlain has been experiencing HABs since the 1970s, and a total maximum daily load (TMDL) is in place to reduce P loading to the lake, with much of the reduction in P load being required to come from the agricultural sector. It is critical to understand nutrient movement and the impact of a changing regional climate in manure-based agricultural watersheds, as dairy farming is the primary agricultural sector in Vermont. Additionally, studying agricultural management practices to mitigate P losses is imperative to meet the target P load reductions set forth by the TMDL. The first portion of this thesis analyzes seasonal differences in nutrient movement in two manure-based agricultural watersheds in the Vermont Lake Champlain Basin (VT LCB) with varying extent of agricultural land use. The results show that the spring and summer had the smallest seasonal loads of total P (TP) and dissolved P (DP) in runoff. The smaller summer P loads appear to be related to periods of drought, while the smaller P loads in the spring are likely related to less manure P built up in the watershed that could be transported to surface waters. Approximately 40% of the cumulative TP load and 43% of the cumulative DP load was discharged from the watersheds in the fall. The increased fall TP and DP loads were likely due to the application of manure across the watersheds during this period. The data suggest that soil erosion is relatively less dominant as a driver of watershed P discharge during times when manure was available for transport post-application (e.g., fall and summer), and more closely linked to watershed P loss during times when less new manure was available (e.g., spring). The results suggest better management of manure application rates and timing as well as increased implementation of agricultural management practices are needed to address increased P transport throughout the year, and especially during the fall. The second portion of this thesis assesses the efficacy of edge-of-field (EOF) iron-based filters for P removal. In-field agricultural management practices such as no-till management and cover cropping target reductions in TP, but do not effectively address DP. EOF filters are a promising management practice for reducing DP losses. Storm runoff at the inlet and outlet of one subsurface and two surface EOF filters was monitored for 10 months. The subsurface filter proved very effective for soluble reactive P (SRP) and TP removal, removing 99% of cumulative SRP load and 91% of TP load from monitored events. The surface filters had varied results, with the east surface filter removing 19% of SRP load and 72% of TP load, and the west surface filter removing 52% of SRP load and having no effect on TP load. The findings highlight the importance of filter sizing and design to minimize the impact of sediment loading and preferential flow pathways on surface EOF filter performance. The study provides early evidence that tile drain filters are a highly effective management strategy for mitigating SRP and TP losses from agricultural fields.
Number of Pages
Myers, George Harrison, "Understanding and Mitigating Phosphorus Losses in the Vermont Lake Champlain Basin at the Watershed and Field Scale In A Changing Climate" (2023). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 1726.
Available for download on Thursday, July 31, 2025