The performance of six separate percolation areas has been intensively monitored to ascertain the attenuation effects of the unsaturated subsoil with respect to on-site wastewater effluent. Septic tank effluent on three sites and secondary treated effluent on the other three sites was discharged into subsoils of varying percolation values. Samples of the percolating effluent were taken using suction lysimeters installed to nominal depths of 0.3, 0.6 and 1.0 m below the invert of the percolation trenches. The results clearly showed that the development of a biomat across the percolation areas receiving secondary treated effluent was muted on these sites compared to the sites receiving septic tank effluent. Significant differences were found between the sites receiving septic tank and secondary treated effluent in terms of the potential nitrogen loading to groundwater. The average nitrogen loading after 1.0 m depth of unsaturated subsoil per capita equated to 5.5, 3.3 and 3.2 gTotal-N/d for the sites receiving secondary treated effluent compared to 4.2, 1.7 and 0.3 gTotal-N/d for the sites receiving septic tank effluent. The noticeably higher nitrogen loading on one of the septic tank sites corresponded to the effluent percolating through highly permeable subsoil that counteracted any significant denitrification.

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