Nitrogen excess is a key trigger for eutrophication of water bodies. Stormwater can be an important N source in urban environments and thus requires effective treatment. Stormwater biofilters can remove a wide range of pollutants. However, removal of N is often insufficient due to a lack of denitrification in freely drained biofilters. We tested whether existing stormwater biofilters with poor N removal could be enhanced if a saturated zone is retrofitted to create anaerobic conditions for effective denitrification. We evaluated this by measuring removal of nitrogen, phosphorus and metals in retrofitted biofilters using laboratory mesocosms. For over 18 months five replicates of typical biofiltration configurations, that include freely draining 690 mm deep loamy sand media above a 140 mm deep transition layer and a 70 mm gravel layer planted with popular plant species (Dianella revoluta, Microlaena stipoides and Carex appressa), were tested for typical operational conditions. The biofilter columns planted with D. revoluta and M. stipoides showed poor N removal, while biofilters planted with C. appressa were performing well. All columns were then retrofitted with a 450 mm deep saturated zone, and testing continued using the same operational conditions. After retrofitting the saturated zone, NOx removal was significantly increased (mean increase: 370% for Dianella and 180% for Microlaena) which enhanced overall N removal. TP removal was less efficient after retrofitting the saturated zone due to presence of organic matter in the filter media within the saturated zone. The removal of metals was not affected in practical terms, despite some statistically significant effects. The results of this study suggest that retrofitting a saturated zone in existing standard biofilters should be recommended if the existing filter has inadequate N removal and if N discharges pose a potential threat to the receiving environment.
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