Evaluation of water quality functions of conventional and advanced soil-based onsite wastewater treatment systems

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Shallow narrow drainfields are assumed to provide better wastewater renovation than conventional drainfields and are used for protection of surface and ground water. To test this assumption, we evaluated the water quality functions of two advanced onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS) drainfields-shallow narrow (SND) and Geomat (GEO)-and a conventional pipe and stone (P&S) drainfield over 12 mo using replicated (n = 3) intact soil mesocosms. The SND and GEO mesocosms received effluent from a single-pass sand filter, whereas the P&S received septic tank effluent. Between 97.1 and 100% of 5-d biochemical oxygen demand (BOD5), fecal coliform bacteria, and total phosphorus (P) were removed in all drainfield types. Total nitrogen (N) removal averaged 12.0% for P&S, 4.8% for SND, and 5.4% for GEO. A mass balance analysis accounted for 95.1% (SND), 94.1% (GEO), and 87.6% (P&S) of N inputs. When the whole treatment train (excluding the septic tank) is considered, advanced systems, including sand filter pretreatment and SND or GEO soil-based treatment, removed 99.8 to 99.9% of BOD5, 100% of fecal coliform bacteria and P, and 26.0 to 27.0% of N. In contrast, the conventional system removed 99.4% of BOD5 and 100% of fecal coliform bacteria and P but only 12.0% of N. All drainfield types performed similarly for most water quality functions despite differences in placement within the soil profile. However, inclusion of the pretreatment step in advanced system treatment trains results in better N removal than in conventional treatment systems despite higher drainfield N removal rates in the latter.

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Journal of Environmental Quality