Two horizontal subsurface flow wetlands were constructed on separate sites in Ireland - one to provide secondary treatment and the other to provide a tertiary treatment for single house domestic effluent. A comprehensive analysis over three years provided a robust characterisation of the internal dynamics of the systems with respect to N and P removal. The removal of Total N was only 29% and 30% in the secondary and tertiary treatment wetlands respectively and revealed a drop off in performance over time with a higher release of org-N during summer periods. 15N stable isotope studies confirmed that 35% of the ammonium from the septic tank was passing straight through the process without taking part in any biogeochemical processes. However, the study showed that influent N in both wetlands was being biologically assimilated into organic nitrogen (biomass or plants) and then released again as soluble ammonium – so-called nitrogen “spiraling”. Removal of Total P in the wetlands averaged 45% and 28% respectively. The results also showed that if the annual above ground stem matter was completely removed it would only account for 8.4% and 1.3% of the annual total P-load to the respective wetlands. Accordingly the effluent PO4-P concentrations were still found to be >5 mg/l on average.

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