Storm event-scale nutrient attenuation in constructed wetlands experiencing a Mediterranean climate: A comparison of a surface flow and hybrid surface-subsurface flow system
Among different Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) options, constructed wetlands (CWs) are widely used to protect and support downstream urban waterways from stormwater nutrients. This analysis assessed the nutrient attenuation ability of a novel CW in Western Australia that combined multiple alternating surface flow (SF) and laterite-based subsurface flow (SSF) compartments within a parkland context to improve the urban landscape and amenity. The CW was designed to maximise nutrient reduction despite experiencing a large range of hydrologic conditions, from low transit time nutrient-rich pulses during the wet periods to prolonged low to zero flow conditions during the dry periods. The CW design was further complicated by the possibility of ungauged water inputs after wet antecedent conditions, seasonal macrophyte senescence and a recirculation system to maintain flow during the dry periods. From analysis of data over a range of time scales, we determined that overall the CW attenuated up to 62% total nitrogen (TN) and 99% total phosphorus (TP) loads during dry weather conditions, and 54–76% TN and 27–68% TP during episodic flow pulses. N species attenuation was dominant in the SF compartments, while P species were attenuated mostly within the SSF compartments. Nutrient accumulation in the sediments, and above and below ground biomass of the macrophytes were found to increase during the early stages of operation, suggesting the system reached equilibrium within four years. Further, by comparing trends in nutrient attenuation within the context of diel changes in high frequency oxygen data from different compartments, it was demonstrated that changes in dissolved oxygen were related to changes in nutrient concentration across the CW, although interpretation of this was complicated by changing hydro-climatological conditions. The implementation of this CW concept in a highly seasonal Mediterranean climate demonstrates that urban liveability and environmental health can both be improved through careful design.
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