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Fate of Nutrients in Shallow Groundwater Receiving Treated Septage, Malibu, CA

Izbicki, John A.
Ground water 2014 v.52 no.S1 pp. 218-233
aquifers, denitrification, fractionation, groundwater, iron oxides, mixing, nitrification, nitrogen, nutrients, pH, sorption, volatilization, wastewater, wastewater treatment, wells, California
Treated wastewater discharged from more than 400 onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) near the Civic Center area of Malibu, California, 40 km west of downtown Los Angeles, composes 28% of the recharge to a 3.4 km² alluvial aquifer. On the basis of δ¹⁸O and δD data, the fraction of wastewater in some samples was >70%. Ammonium and nitrate concentrations in water from 15 water‐table wells sampled in July 2009 and April 2010 ranged from <0.01 to 12 milligrams per liter as nitrogen (mg/L as N), and from <0.01 to 11 mg/L as N, respectively. Chemical and isotopic data (δ¹⁵N of ammonium and nitrate, and δ¹⁸O of nitrate) show two processes remove nitrogen discharged from OWTS. Where groundwater was reducing, sorption of ammonium resulted in 30 to 50% nitrogen removal. Where groundwater was initially oxic, nitrification with subsequent denitrification as reducing conditions developed, resulted in up to 60% nitrogen removal. Nitrogen removal through sorption dominated during the cooler April sample period, and denitrification dominated during the warmer July sample period. The combination of mixing and nitrogen removal due to denitrification, sorption, and volatilization produces a δ¹⁵N apparent fractionation factor (εₐₚₚ = −5), that can be explained using laboratory‐derived fractionation factors (ε) for the individual processes. Phosphate concentrations ranged from < 0.04 to 2 mg/L as phosphorous. Sorption to iron oxides on the surfaces of mineral grains at near‐neutral pH's removed some phosphate; however, little removal occurred at more alkaline pH's (>7.3).