Polishing ponds are used to improve the quality of effluents from efficient anaerobic sewage treatment plants like UASB reactors, so that the final effluent quality becomes compatible with legal or desired standards. The residual organic material and suspended solids concentrations in the digested sewage are reduced, but often the main objective of polishing ponds is to improve the hygienic quality, measured by the concentration of two indicator organisms: helminth eggs and faecal coliforms (FC). The FC removal is normally the slowest process and for that reason becomes the main design criterion for a polishing pond. By contrast in conventional waste stabilisation pond (WSP) systems the organic material removal is the governing design parameter.

The feasibility of operating a single polishing pond for the post-treatment of UASB effluent is shown in this paper and the final effluent quality as a function of the retention time is discussed. Even under the most adverse weather conditions (several weeks of rain) the population of algae remained stable and produced enough oxygen to maintain a predominantly aerobic environment. The final effluent TSS and BOD concentrations were not very low for retention times of less than 1 week, but this could be attributed to the presence of algae in the final effluent. Filtered effluent BOD and TSS concentrations were very low. For retention times of more than 1 week algae were efficiently removed from the liquid phase by the action of predators and algae flocculation and settling, so that a final effluent with a very low BOD and TSS concentrations was produced.

To maximise the FC removal efficiency the polishing pond was constructed with the objective of approaching a plug flow regime. However, the observed efficiency was well below the expected value for all retention times, which was attributable to imperfections of the flow regime. From tracer studies it was established that the dispersion number was in the range of 0.14 to 0.16, which means that moderate mixing occurred, even though the pond was designed to avoid mixing as much as possible. Also the dead volume fraction ranging from 0.12 to 0.15 was quite considerable. Due to these imperfections the required retention time for an effluent to be used in unrestricted irrigation was produced for a retention time of about 10 days, twice the value of the minimum retention time for a batch or true plug flow pond. Although the plug flow regime could not be approached in practice, the required retention time of 10 days is still very much shorter than the value used in conventional WSPs (20 to 30 days).

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