Transport of Nitrogen and Phosphorus from Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems to Shallow Groundwater

Monday, 15 December 2014: 2:40 PM
Gurpal Toor, Univ of FL-Gulf Coast REC, Wimauma, FL, United States
The knowledge about the nutrients transport from the vadose zone of onsite wastewater treatment systems (commonly called septic systems) is crucial to protect groundwater quality as 25% of US population uses septic systems to discharge household wastewater. For example, our preliminary data showed that about 47% of applied water was recovered at 60-cm below drainfield of septic systems. This implies that contaminants present in wastewater, if not attenuated in the vadose zone, can be transported to shallow groundwater. This presentation will focus on the biophysical and hydrologic controls on the transport of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from the vadose of two conventional (drip dispersal, gravel trench) and an advanced (with aerobic and anaerobic medias) system. These systems were constructed using two rows of drip pipe (37 emitters/mound) placed 0.3 m apart in the center of 6 m x 0.6 m drainfield. Each system received 120 L of wastewater per day. During 20-month period (May 2012 to December 2013), soil-water samples were collected from the vadose zone using suction cup lysimeters installed at 0.30, 0.60, and 1.05 m depth and groundwater samples were collected from piezometers installed at 3-3.30 m depth below the drainfield. A complimentary 1-year study using smaller drainfields (0.5 m long, 0.9 m wide, 0.9 m high) was conducted to obtain better insights in the vadose zone. A variety of instruments (multi-probe sensors, suction cup lysimeters, piezometers, tensiometers) were installed in the vadose zones. Results showed that nitrification controlled N evolution in drainfield and subsequent transport of N plumes (>10 mg/L) into groundwater. Most of the wastewater applied soluble inorganic P (>10 mg/L) was quickly attenuated in the drainfield due to fixation (sorption, precipitation) in the vadose zone (<0.10 mg/L), which was further reduced to <0.05 mg/L in groundwater. The hydrologic controls (primarily rainfall during June-September) facilitated transport of N, but not P, to shallow groundwater. The advanced system was extremely effective as it removed >95% N from wastewater, but was less effective at removing P. This presentation will conclude with importance of better septic system design and soil-based processes in reducing N and P transport to groundwater and protecting water quality in aquifers.