A gravel-based tidal flow reed bed system was operated with three different strategies in order to investigate its optimal performance for the treatment of a high strength agricultural wastewater. According to the three strategies, individual reed beds were saturated and unsaturated with the wastewater for different periods while reasonably stable hydraulic and organic loadings were maintained. Experimental results demonstrated that the system produced the highest pollutant removal efficiencies with a relatively short saturated period and long unsaturated period, highlighting the importance of oxygen transfer into reed bed matrices during the treatment. Significant removals of some major organic and inorganic pollutants were achieved under all three operational conditions. Nitrification was not the major route of ammoniacal-nitrogen removal when the system was under high organic loading. Due to the filtration of suspended solids and the accumulation of biomass, gradual clogging of the reed bed matrices took place, which caused concerns over the long-term efficiency of the tidal flow system.

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