Groundwater nitrate reduction in a simulated free water surface wetland system
Misiti, Teresa Marie
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Wetland-based treatment systems are often implemented as a method to remove unwanted substances from contaminated groundwater. Wetlands are effective due to the high biological activity that naturally takes place in the rhizosphere and soil. In support of a demonstration surface wetland system at a site in Columbus, Georgia, laboratory-scale wetland systems were designed to study the effect of different carbon sources and their biodegradability, COD:N ratio and temperature on the rate and extent of nitrate reduction of nitrate-bearing groundwater. Nitrate reducing bacteria are ubiquitous in surface and subsurface wetlands but a major limiting factor for these systems is carbon availability. Two major carbon sources were investigated in both continuous-flow and batch systems: a natural source, hay and a commercial source, MicroC GTM, a concentrated carbohydrate mix. Between these two carbon sources, the nitrate removal rate was not significantly different as long as sufficient biodegradable carbon was provided. The effect of both hydraulic retention time (HRT) and COD:N ratio on nitrate removal were investigated in continuous-flow systems. The specific nitrate removal rate in open to the atmosphere batch reactors was estimated at 0.55 mg N/mg biomass VSS-day. The effluent nitrate concentration in a continuous-flow system maintained with an HRT of 5 days at room temperature (22 to 23°C) was less than 3 mg nitrate-N/L. The COD:N ratio was kept at 6:1 for the majority of the experiments (approximately twice the theoretical requirement) to ensure sufficient carbon loading. Lower COD:N ratios of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0.5 were also investigated in the continuous-flow system and the minimum required carbon loading to achieve an effluent nitrate concentration below 10 mg N/L for an influent groundwater nitrate concentration between 65 and 70 mg N/L was determined to be 5:1 COD:N. The effect of temperature on the nitrate removal rate was also investigated at 22, 15, 10 and 5°C. As expected, the rate of nitrate reduction decreased with the decrease in temperature, especially below 10°C. Overall, the surface wetland is a feasible solution to treating nitrate-bearing groundwater even at relatively low ambient temperature values, provided that sufficient, biodegradable carbon is present.