Nitrate removal uncertainty in stormwater control measures: Is the design or climate a culprit?

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Department of Biological Sciences


Eutrophication is caused by excess nitrate and other nutrient exported via stormwater runoff to surface waters, which is projected to increase as a result of climate change. Despite recent increases in the implementation of stormwater control measures (SCM), nutrient export has not abated, indicating poor or inconsistent removal capacities of SCM for nitrate. However, the cause of the variability is unclear. We show that both design and local climate can explain nitrate removal variability by critically analyzing data reported on the international BMP database for nitrate removal by four common types of SCM: bioretention cells, grass swales, media filters, and retention ponds. The relative importance of climate or design on nitrate removal depends on the SCM type. Nitrate removal in grass swales and bioretention systems is more sensitive to local climate than design specifications, whereas nitrate removal in the retention ponds is less sensitive to climate and more sensitive to design features such as vegetation and pond volume. Media filters without amendment have the least capacity compared to other SCM types surveyed, and their removal capacity was independent of the local climate. Adding amendments made up of carbon biomass, iron-based media, or a mixture of these amendments can significantly improve nitrate removal. The type of carbon biomass is also a factor since biochar does not appear to affect nitrate removal. This analysis can help inform the selection of SCM and modification of their design based on local and projected climate to maximize nitrate removal and minimize eutrophication.

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Water Research