Enhancement of carbon and nitrogen removal by helophytes along subsurface water flowpaths receiving treated wastewater

Ribot, Miquel ; Bernal, Susana ; Nikolakopoulou, MyrtoVaessen, Timothy N. ; Cochero, JoaquínGacia, Esperança ; Sorolla, AlbertArgerich, A. ; Sabater, Francesc ; Isnard, ManelMartí, Eugènia. Science of the Total Environment 599-600 : 1667-1676 (2017)  DIGITAL CSIC

Wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents are sources of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and inorganic nitrogen (DIN) to receiving streams, which can eventually become saturated by excess of DIN. Aquatic plants (i.e., helophytes) can modify subsurface water flowpaths as well as assimilate nutrients and enhance microbial activity in the rhizosphere, yet their ability to increase DIN transformation and removal in WWTP-influenced streams is poorly understood. We examined the influence of helophytes on DIN removal along subsurface water flowpaths and how this was associated with DOC removal and labile C availability. To do so, we used a set of 12 flow-through flumes fed with water from aWWTP effluent. The flumes contained solely sediments or sediments with helophytes. Presence of helophytes in the flumes enhanced both DIN and DOC removal. Experimental addition of a labile C source into the flumes resulted in a high removal of the added C within the first meter of the flumes. Yet, no concomitant increases in DIN removal were observed. Moreover, results from laboratory assays showed significant increases in the potential denitrifying enzymeactivity of sediment biofilms from the flumes when labile C was added; suggesting denitrification was limited by C quality. Together these results suggest that lack of DIN removal response to the labile C addition in flumeswas likely because potential increases in denitrification by biofilms from sediments were counterbalanced by high rates of mineralization of dissolved organic matter. Our results highlight that helophytes can enhance DIN removal in streams receiving inputs from WWTP effluents; and thus, they can become a relevant bioremediation tool inWWTP-influenced streams. However, results also suggest that the quality of DOC fromtheWWTP effluent can influence theN removal capacity of these systems.