Document Type


Date of Original Version



Natural Resources Science


Advanced nitrogen-removal onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) are used to reduce total nitrogen (N) levels in domestic wastewater. Maintaining system performance requires regular monitoring and in situ rapid tests can provide an inexpensive option for assessing treatment performance. We used a portable photometer to measure ammonium and nitrate concentrations in final effluent from 46 advanced N-removal OWTS, sampling each site at least three times in 2017. To assess photometer accuracy, we compared measurements made using the photometer with those determined by standard laboratory methods using linear regression analysis and a two-tailed t test to compare regression parameters to those for a perfect linear relationship (slope = 1, intercept = 0). Our results show that photometer-based analysis reliably estimates inorganic N (ammonium and nitrate) concentration in field and laboratory settings. Photometer-based analysis of the sum of inorganic N species also consistently approximated the total N concentration in the final effluent from the systems. A cost-benefit analysis indicated that the photometer is a more cost-effective option than having samples analyzed by commercial environmental testing laboratories after analysis of 8 to 33 samples. A portable photometer can be used to provide reliable, cost-effective measurements of ammonium and nitrate concentrations, and estimates of total N levels in advanced N-removal OWTS effluent. This method can be a viable tool for triaging system performance in the field, helping to identify systems that are not functioning properly and may need to be adjusted or repaired by an operation and maintenance service provider in order to meet treatment standards.

Amador_Ross_UseBasedPhotometer_2020_SuppMat.docx (16 kB)
Supplemental Materials