The effects of a weir on reducing acid flux from a drained coastal acid sulphate soil backswamp

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Johnston, SG, Slavich, PG & Hirst, P 2004, 'The effects of a weir on reducing acid flux from a drained coastal acid sulphate soil backswamp', Agricultural Water Management, vol. 69, no. 1, pp. 43-67.

Agricultural Water Management home page available at www.elsevier.com/locate/agwat

Publisher's version of article available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2004.03.008


A trial was conducted to examine the effects of retaining drain water with a weir on reducing acid flux from a drained coastal acid sulphate soil backswamp. Prior to weir construction, groundwater seepage to the ditch drain was the main hydrological pathway for acid flux. High hydraulic conductivity (>120 m per day) in the sulphuric horizons due to extensive macropores, combined with tidal modulation of drain water levels encouraged rapid seepage of acid groundwater. Most seepage occurred while the backswamp groundwater table was in a narrow elevation range, referred to as an ‘acid export window’. The acidity of drainage water was highly sensitive to the hydraulic gradient between the groundwater table and the adjacent drain water level. Acid flux rates from groundwater seepage were strongly positively correlated to effluent groundwater hydraulic gradients. The constructed weir was designed to reduce the magnitude of effluent groundwater gradients and retain shallow groundwater by maintaining high and stable drain water levels. This reduced groundwater seepage to the drain and increased the proportion of shallow groundwater lost from the system via evapotranspiration. The weir affected 60% of drainage network and observed and modelled data suggest acid flux from groundwater seepage was reduced by about 65–70%. Effluent groundwater gradients behind the weir were reduced by about 80%. The main effect of the weir was to reduce discharge volumes, although reductions in H+ and acidic metal cation concentrations were also observed. This study demonstrates that a weir can be an effective means of reducing acid flux in coastal acid sulphate soils where main hydrological pathway of acid export is groundwater seepage. However, this strategy may not prevent continued sulphide oxidation. Reduced acid export, but continued acid generation, combined with enhanced evaporative flux has the potential over the longer term to increase the net accumulation of acidic products in the backswamp soil and groundwater. Further monitoring is required to assess this possibility.

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