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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Numerical simulation of a fine-grained denitrification layer for removing septic system nitrate from shallow groundwater.

One of the most common methods to dispose of domestic wastewater involves the release of septic effluent from drains located in the unsaturated zone. Nitrogen from such systems is currently of concern because of nitrate contamination of drinking water supplies and eutrophication of coastal waters. It has been proposed that adding labile carbon sources to septic distribution fields could enhance heterotrophic denitrification and thus reduce nitrate concentrations in shallow groundwater. In this study, a numerical model which solves for variably saturated flow and reactive transport of multiple species is employed to investigate the performance of a drain field design that incorporates a fine-grained denitrification layer. The hydrogeological scenario simulated is an unconfined sand aquifer. The model results suggest that the denitrification layer, supplemented with labile organic carbon, may be an effective means to eliminate nitrogen loading to shallow groundwater. It is also shown that in noncalcareous aquifers, the denitrification reaction may provide sufficient buffering capacity to maintain near neutral pH conditions beneath and down gradient of the drain field. Leaching of excess dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from the denitrification layer is problematic, and causes an anaerobic plume to develop in simulations where the water table is less than 5-6 m below ground surface; this anaerobic plume may lead to other down gradient changes in groundwater quality. A drain field and denitrification layer of smaller dimensions is shown to be just as effective for reducing nitrate, but has the benefit of reducing the excess DOC leached from the layer. This configuration will minimize the impact of wastewater disposal in areas where the water table is as shallow as 3.5 m.[1]


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