Constructed wetlands (CWs) use the same processes that occur in natural wetlands to improve water quality and are used worldwide to treat different qualities of water. This paper shows the results of an Austrian research project having the main goals to optimize vertical flow beds in terms of surface area requirement and nutrient removal, respectively. It could be shown that a subsurface vertical flow constructed wetland (SSVFCW) operated with an organic load of 20 g COD.m−2.d−1 (corresponding to a specific surface area demand of 4 m2 per person) can fulfil the requirements of the Austrian standard regarding effluent concentrations and removal efficiencies. During the warmer months (May – October), when the temperature of the effluent is higher than 12 °C, the specific surface area might be further reduced. Even 2 m2 per person have been proven to be adequate. Enhanced nitrogen removal of 58 % could be achieved with a two-stage system (first stage: grain size for main layer 1–4 mm, saturated drainage layer; and second stage: grain size for main layer 0.06–4 mm, free drainage) that was operated with an organic load of 80 g COD.m−2.d−1 for the first stage (1 m2 per person), i.e. 40 g COD.m−2.d−1 for the two-stage system (2 m2 per person). Although the two-stage system was operated with higher organic loads a higher effluent quality compared to a single-stage SSVFCW (grain size for main layer 0.06–4 mm, free drainage, organic load 20 g COD.m−2.d−1) could be reached.

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