Environmental effects of applying composted organics to new highway embankments: Part 2. Water quality

T. D. Glanville, R. A. Persyn, T. L. Richard, J. M. Laflen, P. M. Dixon

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30 Scopus citations


An oversupply of composted organics, and imposition of new federal regulations governing stormwater discharges from construction sites, motivated the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), and the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) to sponsor a study of the potential water quality impacts of using compost to control runoff and erosion on highway construction sites. Test areas treated with 5 and 10 cm deep blankets (unincorporated) of three types of compost (biosolids, yard waste, and bio-industrial byproducts) were constructed on a new highway embankment with a 3:1 sideslope and subjected to simulated rainfall intensity of approximately 100 mm h-1. Concentrations and total masses of N, P, K, and nine metals in runoff from compost-treated areas were compared to those in runoff from embankment areas receiving two conventional runoff and erosion control methods typically used by the Iowa DOT (light tillage and seeding of native embankment soil, or application of 15 cm of imported topsail followed by seeding). Simulations were replicated six times under both vegetated and unvegetated conditions, and the first hour of runoff was sampled to determine concentrations and total masses of soluble and adsorbed nutrient and metals. The applied composts generally contained much greater pollutant concentrations than either of the two soils used in the conventional treatments, and runoff from unvegetated plots treated with compost also contained significantly greater concentrations of soluble and adsorbed Zn, P, and K, and adsorbed Cr and Cu, than runoff from the two conventional treatments. In accordance with previously reported soil erosion research, runoff from all test plots was sampled periodically during the first hour of runoff. Due to their significantly greater infiltration capacity, however, compost-treated areas required significantly greater amounts of rainfall than conventionally treated areas to produce 1 h of runoff. In light of this significant difference in the amount of rain applied, the total mass of pollutants contained in runoff generated by equal amounts of rainfall was judged a more equitable basis for comparing the treatments. Runoff samples collected during the first 30 min of rainfall (equivalent to a 25-year return period storm at the applied intensity of 100 mm h-1) were used for this purpose, and the resulting total masses of individual quantifiable soluble and adsorbed contaminants in runoff from conventionally treated areas were at least 5 and 33 times, respectively, those in runoff from compost-treated areas. Based on these results, blanket applications of compost can be used to reduce runoff and erosion from construction sites without increasing nutrients and metals in stormwater runoff.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-478
Number of pages8
JournalTransactions of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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