Despite all efforts, agricultural contaminants remain at alarming concentrations in Quebec surface waters. Preferential flow (PF) of soluble contaminants has been suggested as a contributing factor but has not been specifically studied in the humid climate of eastern Canadian soils. Three tracers were surface applied on plots along a catena on a loamy sand under intensive agricultural production in Beauce, Quebec. Tracer distribution in soil profiles was monitored three times over a 12-month period. At the summit, finger flow rapidly transported tracers into the subsurface. The subsurface preferential lateral flow rapidly brought the tracers downslope. Narrow points of preferential seepage and discharge and underground lateral PF were observed at the footslope. The summit and the backslope of the catena showed strong vertical and lateral subsurface PF, which made their contribution to subsurface tracer movement toward surface water equal to or greater than that of the footslope, in part because of the hydrological connectivity between summit, backslope, and surface water. PF and matrix flow were both significant in all parts of the catena. Therefore, all parts of a catena, even those far from surface water, should be considered when evaluating potential belowground contaminant transport toward surface water.
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Vol. 96 • No. 1