Wastewater treatment in constructed wetlands : Effects of vegetation, hydraulics and data analysis methods

Abstract: Degradation of water resources has become one of the most pressing global concerns currently facing mankind. Constructed Wetlands (CWs) represent a concept to combat deterioration of water resources by acting as buffers between wastewater and receiving water bodies. Still, constructing wetlands for the sole purpose of wastewater treatment is a challenging task. To contribute to this research area, the fundamental question raised in this doctorate thesis was: how do factors such as vegetation and residing water movements (hydraulics) influence wastewater treatment in CWs? Also, effects of different data analysis methods for results of CW hydraulics and wastewater treatment were investigated. Research was focused on  phosphorus (P), ammonium-nitrogen (NH4+-N) and solids (TSS) in wastewater and o n P in macrophyte biomass. Studies were performed in pilot-scale free water surface (FWS) CW systems in Kenya (Chemelil) and Sweden (Halmstad) and as computer simulations.Results from the Chemelil CWs demonstrated that meeting effluent concentration standards simultaneously for all water quality parameters in one CW was difficult. Vegetation harvest, and thus nutrient uptake by young growing macrophytes, was important for maintaining low effluents of NH4+-N and P, especially during dry seasons. On the other hand, mature and dense vegetation growing for at least 4 months secured meeting TSS standards. Phosphorus in above-ground green biomass accounted for almost 1/3 of the total P mass removal, demonstrating high potential for P removal through macrophyte harvest in CWs. Also, results suggested that harvest should be species-specific to achieve high P removal by macrophytes and overall acceptable wastewater treatment in CWs. Still, different methods to estimate evapotranspiration (ET) from the Chemelil CWs showed that water balance calculations greatly impacted estimations of wastewater treatment results.Hydraulic tracer studies performed in the Chemelil and Halmstad CWs showed that mature and dense emergent vegetation in CWs could reduce effective treatment volumes (e-values), which emphasized the importance of regulating this type of vegetation. Also, it was shown that hydraulic tracer studies with lithium chloride performed in CWs with dense emergent vegetation had problems with low tracer recoveries. This problem could be reduced by promoting the distribution of incoming tracer solution into the CW using a barrier near the CW inlet pipe. Computer simulation results showed that the choice of tracer data analysis method greatly influenced quantifications of CW hydraulics and pollutant removal. The e-value could be 50% higher and the pollutant removal 13% higher depending upon used method. Moreover, unrealistic evalues (above 100%) in published literature could to some extent be explained by tracer data analysis method. Hence, to obtain more reliable hydraulic data and wastewater treatment results from CWs, more attention should be paid to the choice of tracer data analysis method.

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