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Long term nitrate removal in a denitrification wall

Nitrogen (N) inputs to groundwater are one of the most widespread environmental problems globally. However, as N is important for crop production to support the current global population, it is difficult to limit N input to an extent where groundwater contamination is completely avoided. Researchers have been testing new ways to remove N (in the form of nitrate (NO3-)) from groundwater, primarily through enhancing microbial denitrification. One technology utilizing this microbial process is a denitrification wall, which is an inexpensive, low-maintenance technology compared to other options to treat NO3--contaminated groundwater. Denitrification walls have been shown to be effective for removing NO3- from groundwater through denitrification for seven years in New Zealand, nine years in Iowa, and 15 years in Canada; however, long-term data on the efficacy of denitrification walls remain limited. In order to understand how these systems function in the long term, the performance of a New Zealand denitrification wall installed in 1996 was examined. Field sampling was carried out during the winter of 2010 at the denitrification wall at Bardowie Farm in Cambridge, New Zealand. This farm had received relatively high N inputs from spray-irrigation of effluent from the nearby Hautapu Dairy Factory for over 30 years. The denitrification wall was originally constructed by mixing 40 m3 Pinus radiata sawdust with soil down to a depth of 1.5 m where it intercepted groundwater flow. Groundwater samples were collected from wells installed upslope and within the wall and samples were analyzed for NO3- concentrations on five occasions. Soil samples were collected on four occasions from below the water table and analyzed for denitrifying enzyme activity (DEA), total carbon (C), available C, and microbial biomass C. Results were compared to previous measurements. Groundwater NO3- concentrations entering the wall averaged 2.6 mg N L-1, which was a decrease from 2002 where NO3- entered the wall at an average of 9 mg N L-1. Despite this decrease, NO3- concentrations within the wall averaged 0.2 mg N L-1, which corresponded to 92% NO3- removal. DEA rates in the wall were nearly as high as the first year of construction. In contrast, total C and microbial biomass C had decreased by half, while available C remained the same as measured two years after construction. Denitrification in the wall remained NO3- limited suggesting that C was still sufficiently available to the denitrifiers. These data indicated that the denitrification wall was still effective after 14 years. To predict denitrification wall longevity, a first-order decay curve was fitted to the total C data through time (R2 = 0.92; p < 0.05). The decay curve was used to predict the time until total C reached 0.1%, although it is unclear at what %C denitrification will become C limited. Using this decay curve, it was estimated that C in the wall would not be depleted for 66 years, although it is possible that C will become limiting to denitrifiers before that time. This long-term study suggested that denitrification walls are cost-effective solutions to removing NO3- from groundwater as they can be effective for a number of years without any maintenance.
Type of thesis
Long, L. M. (2011). Long term nitrate removal in a denitrification wall (Thesis, Master of Philosophy (MPhil)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5182
University of Waikato
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