US engineers want to create model for optimal wastewater lagoon performance

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wastewater-lagoon-construction
West Virginia University researchers plan to create an interactive map with search filters enabling users to find wastewater lagoons matching certain parameters and pull data demonstrating how well those lagoons remove nutrients in various conditions. Photo credit: Lost_in_the_Midwest, stock.adobe.com

A team of U.S. environmental engineers is using new funding to learn more about how rural, low-tech wastewater lagoons impact nutrients remaining after treatment.

Wastewater lagoons have a large footprint and typically serve smaller communities where land is abundant, but municipal funding is scarce, making lagoons an economical option. The $1 million in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency will go to researchers at West Virginia University’s Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, who hope to create a model for optimal lagoon performance under different conditions and with different technologies.

“What’s the sweet spot of removing nutrients while limiting environmental impacts at a reasonable cost?” asks Assistant Professor Kevin Orner in a media statement from West Virginia University.

Orner’s team notes that when treated wastewater containing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus enter waterways, those nutrients feed algal growth that uses oxygen when it decomposes, suffocating aquatic life and damaging commercial and recreational fishing industries.

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Additionally, said Orner, excess nutrients can cause other issues, such as too much nitrate in well water, which could cause infant methemoglobinemia, more commonly known as Blue Baby Syndrome.

“Wastewater enters the lagoon,” Orner explained, “stays for a while and is discharged, typically into a river. Hopefully, over time, solids have settled, maybe the sun has killed pathogens, or some nitrogen leaves the liquid as nitrogen gas, and the contaminants in the wastewater leaving the lagoon are less than the contaminants that were in the wastewater coming in.”

One of the first orders of business, Orner said, will be to determine the number of wastewater lagoons and seek out relevant performance data. In West Virginia alone, he said he is aware of 26 wastewater lagoons.

In Canada, there are more than 1,200 lagoon systems, according to Statistics Canada. They are typically more prevalent in Alberta and northern communities. In 2004, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) created a best practices guide for wastewater lagoon operation.

“A poorly operated lagoon can create objectionable odours and result in the discharge of poorly treated effluent that can adversely affect the aquatic life in the receiving stream,” the FCM guide warns.

Once initial data is organized, Orner’s team plans to create an interactive map with search filters enabling users to find lagoons matching certain parameters and pull data demonstrating how well those lagoons remove nutrients in various conditions.

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