Initial Evaluation of Vegetated Treatment Areas for Treating Runoff from Small Swine Operations in Central Texas

A vegetative treatment area (VTA), as defined by USDA-NRCS, is a “vegetative area composed of perennial grass or forages used for the treatment of runoff from an open lot production system or other process waters”. VTA’s are typically part of a vegetative treatment system (VTS) that includes additional components to remove solids, such as a settling or vegetative infiltration basin. There have been numerous studies, both modeling and field, related to the design and evaluation of VTS’s used to treat animal feeding operation (AFO) runoff; however, none of these have studies evaluated the effectiveness of VTA’s receiving direct runoff from small swine operations during natural rainfall events. Is it possible that a sufficiently sized VTA alone can effectively treat direct runoff from small swine AFO’s during daily operation? This project aims to answer that question and evaluate the effectiveness of VTA’s as a practical and cost-effective alternative wastewater management option to protect surface water quality on small swine facilities. Three locations were established in 2012 at small swine AFO’s in central Texas. In each location, sampling sites were installed to monitor runoff water quantity and quality at the inlet and outlet of the VTA and a nearby control area. Initial data show that the VTA’s provided substantial treatment of the swine facility runoff in terms of reduced nutrient concentrations, but VTA runoff was still higher in nutrients than the control site. The preliminary data highlighted the importance of solids management and year-round vegetation. Hopefully, as these VTA’s become better established, the increased capacity for infiltration and plant nutrient uptake will be reflected in the soil and runoff data.


Harmel, Daren      USDA-ARS

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