Upgrades to enhance nitrogen removal were tested in a 2 year old pilot vertical flow constructed wetland in spring and summer periods. The effects of a saturated layer and of recirculation were tested in particular. Two pilots (L = 2 m, W = 1.25 m, H = 1.2 m), filled with expanded schist (Mayennite®), were designed with hydraulic saturated layers of 20 and 40 cm at the bottom. Each pilot was fed with raw domestic wastewater under field conditions according to a hydraulic load of 15–38 cm d−1 (i.e. 158–401 g COD (chemical oxygen demand) m−2 d−1) and to recirculation rates ranging from 0% up to 150%. The initial load during the first 2 years of operation resulted in an incomplete mineralized accumulated sludge leading to total suspended solids (TSS), COD and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5) release. A 40 cm hydraulic saturated layer enabled an increase of 5–10% total nitrogen (TN) removal compared to a 20 cm saturated layer. Recirculation allowed the dilution of raw wastewater and enhanced nitrification in a single stage. A design of 1.8 m² pe−1 (48 cm d−1, 191 g COD m−2 d−1) with a 40 cm saturated layer and 100% recirculation enabled the French standard D4 (35 mg TSS L−1, 125 mg COD L−1, 25 mg BOD5 L−1), nitrogen concentrations below 20 mg TKN (total Kjeldahl nitrogen) L−1 and 50 mg TN L−1, to be met.

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