The removal of faecal coliforms (FC) in waste stabilization ponds is partly caused by natural decay processes. This work distinguishes between light mediated and light independent processes, since only the upper layer of a stabilization pond receives solar radiation. Light attenuation by algae matter or other particles causes darkness in the rest of the pond. The purpose of this work was to investigate the decay processes in stabilization ponds in order to yield improved design of pond systems.

Experiments were carried out with buffered effluents from an Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) reactor, treating domestic wastewater. The FC decay rate was determined and compared for light and dark conditions, in aerated bottles and beakers, respectively. The effective environmental factors were also investigated and mathematical expressions were derived for their effect on the FC decay rate. Special attention was given to the effect of light attenuation by algae matter.

It was found that light independent FC decay in aerated UASB effluent is caused by a shortage in carbon sources, since glucose addition prevented decay for over ten days. The nutrient content of UASB effluent was satisfactory for a long-term survival. The FC decay in the dark parts of stabilization ponds is therefore under conditions of carbon and nutrient sufficiency expected to be negligible. Under conditions of carbon shortage, the light independent FC decay was found to be temperature dependent, but not pH dependent (in the range 7.2 - 9.1).

The FC decay in beakers exposed to solar radiation was much faster then under dark conditions. The light mediated decay was affected by the pH, DO concentration and the solar radiation intensity, but not by the temperature. The addition of autoclaved algae matter strongly reduced the FC decay in the beakers, due to light attenuation. It is therefore expected that the light attenuation by algae matter in stabilization ponds also reduces the FC decay. This could partly offset the stimulating effects of algae photosynthesis (i.e. increased pH and DO concentrations) on FC decay. It seems therefore that there is an optimum algae concentration for maximum FC decay. This can lead to a new design approach, based on regulation of algae growth in stabilization pond systems.

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