Nutrient removal with integrated constructed wetlands: microbial ecology and treatment performance evaluation of full-scale integrated constructed wetlands
Wastewaters from intensive agricultural activities contain high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus that contributes to water management problems. During the past few years, there has been considerable interest in the use of constructed wetlands for treating surface water runoff from farmyards. If the contaminated runoff is not treated, this wastewater along with other non-point sources of pollution can seriously contaminate the surface water and groundwater. Integrated Constructed Wetlands (ICWs) are a type of free water surface wetlands. They are engineered systems that are designed, constructed and operated successfully for treating farmyard runoff in the British Isles. However, the long-term treatment performance of these systems, the processes involved in contaminant removal and the impact on associated water bodies are not well-known. The aims of this project were to assess the performance of full-scale integrated constructed wetlands and understand nutrient removal in them. Performance evaluation of these systems through physical, chemical and microbiological parameters collected for more than 7 years showed good removal efficiencies compared to international literature. The monitored nutrient concentrations in groundwater and surface waters indicate that ICW systems did not pollute the receiving waters. The role of plants (Typha latifolia) and sediment in removing nutrients was also assessed. More nitrogen and phosphorus were stored in wetland soils and sediments than in plants. The results demonstrate that the soil component of a mature wetland system is an important and sustainable nutrient storage compartment. A novel molecular toolbox was used to characterise and compare microbial diversity responsible for nitrogen removal in sediment and litter components of ICW systems. Diverse populations of nitrogen removing bacteria were detected. The litter component of the wetland systems supported more diverse nitrogen removing bacteria than the sediments. Nitrogen removing bacteria in the wetland systems appeared to be stochastically assembled from the same source community. The self-organising map model was applied as a prediction tool for the performance of ICW and to investigate an alternative method of analysing water quality performance indicators. The model performed very well in predicting nutrients and biochemical oxygen demand with easy to measure and cost-effective water quality parameters. The results indicate that the model was an appropriate approach to monitor wastewater treatment processes and can be used to support management of ICW in real-time.