Effects of hydraulic loading on nitrification and denitrification processes in a two-stage, vertical flow treatment wetland at Bridger Bowl Ski Area

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Engineering


A pilot-scale two-stage vertical flow treatment wetland (VFTW) at the Bridger Bowl Ski Area was used to evaluate the influence of hydraulic loading rate on COD removal, nitrification, and denitrification in the system. Hydraulic loading rates ranged between 36 cm/d to 60 cm/d over system years 2018 and 2019. Total nitrogen loading (sum of NH 4+ and NO 3-) ranged from 12 g/m 2d to 65 g/m 2d, and COD loading ranged from 58 g/m 2d to 172 g/m 2d. The system effectively removed COD in both years, with removals of 95% and 96% for influent COD concentrations of 555 mg/L and 607 mg/L, respectively. Influent total nitrogen was 141 mg/L in 2018 and 105 mg/L in 2019, and removals were 67% and 54%, respectively. At a hydraulic loading rate of 60 cm/d, COD removal declined in the first stage and ammonium removal declined in the second stage. At lower hydraulic loading rates (up to 48 cm/d), removal of COD, ammonium and nitrate increased in a consistent pattern with increased mass loading of the respective contaminant, suggesting a maximum hydraulic loading rate limit between 48 and 60 cm/d. The effect of hydraulic loading cannot be completely separated from mass loading of a contaminant, likely influenced by the level of partial saturation within the first stage and the recycle ratio; neither were varied in this study. A key limiting factor is hydraulic overload to the first stage, limiting removal of COD which interfered with nitrification in the second stage. A multivariate model for ammonium removal in the second stage predicts increased ammonium removal with increasing ammonium load but decreasing COD load. Despite operational performance variation the system met applicable discharge requirements, reinforcing the ability of a VFTW system to perform secondary wastewater treatment, even for high-strength wastewater and in cold climates.




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