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Open AccessArticle

Dynamics of Infiltration Rate and Field-Saturated Soil Hydraulic Conductivity in a Wastewater-Irrigated Cropland

Guangdong Key Laboratory of Integrated Agro-environmental Pollution Control and Management, Guangdong Institute of Eco-environmental Science and Technology, Guangzhou 510650, China
Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2019, 11(8), 1632;
Received: 12 June 2019 / Revised: 16 July 2019 / Accepted: 3 August 2019 / Published: 7 August 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Water and Wastewater Treatment)
PDF [5363 KB, uploaded 14 August 2019]


The maintenance of a soil’s infiltration rate (IR) and field-saturated hydraulic conductivity (Kfs) is crucial for the long-term sustainable functioning of wastewater-irrigated lands. However, an effective procedure for reliably measuring in situ soil Kfs remains elusive. To address this issue, this study investigated the dualhead infiltrometer (DHI), a novel instrument for automatically determining IR and Kfs, and compared it with a traditional double-ring infiltrometer (DRI) under various field conditions. In the initial phase, we optimized the procedure and settings for the DHIs in a cropland that was spray-irrigated with secondary-treated wastewater for decades in central Pennsylvania. Results showed that our optimized procedure, which used a single, long pressure cycle, yielded more robust measurements of IR than the originally recommended sequence of two short pressure cycles. The values of Kfs measured by the DHIs with optimized settings were similar to those measured by DRIs under many (but not all) field conditions, due to their differences in infiltration surface areas, operational procedures, length of infiltration time, and soil spatiotemporal variability. Viscosity-corrected Kfs on the irrigated cropland was 123.8 ± 94.0 mm∙h−1, higher than that on the adjacent non-irrigated cropland (103.2 ± 94.6 mm∙h−1), but the difference was not statistically significant, owing to the high degree of soil spatiotemporal variability and our limited number of measurements. Nevertheless, the higher Kfs values measured on irrigated cropland reflect observed changes in soil structure (e.g., soil pore characteristics) that resulted from decades of irrigation. Seasonal variations in Kfs values existed between winter and summer conditions, but IRs during all seasons remained much higher than the current spray-irrigation rate (4.25 mm∙h−1), suggesting that the soil is still capable of handling the routine irrigation, even during winter. However, the coefficients of variation exceeded 67.0% across the field sites investigated, and the time periods covered by our measurements were limited. As this specific site is permitted to discharge treated wastewater year-round, caution must still be exercised to ensure that soil Kfs remains high enough to prevent runoff generation, especially during winter frozen conditions. View Full-Text
Keywords: hydropedology; soil physics; soil moisture; soil temperature; wastewater irrigation; infiltrometer hydropedology; soil physics; soil moisture; soil temperature; wastewater irrigation; infiltrometer

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Zhang, S.-Y.; Hopkins, I.; Guo, L.; Lin, H. Dynamics of Infiltration Rate and Field-Saturated Soil Hydraulic Conductivity in a Wastewater-Irrigated Cropland. Water 2019, 11, 1632.

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