Tile drainage is the major source of nitrate in the upper Midwest, and end-of-tile removal techniques such as wood chip bioreactors have been installed that allow current farming practices to continue, with nitrate removed through denitrification. There have been few multiyear studies of bioreactors examining controls on nitrate removal rates. We evaluated the nitrate removal performance of two wood chip bioreactors during the first 3 yr of operation and examined the major factors that regulated nitrate removal. Bioreactor 2 was subject to river flooding, and performance was not assessed. Bioreactor 1 had average monthly nitrate removal rates of 23 to 44 g N m-3 d-1 in Year 1, which decreased to 1.2 to 11 g N m-3 d-1 in Years 2 and 3. The greater N removal rates in Year 1 and early in Year 2 were likely due to highly degradable C in the woodchips. Only late in Year 2 and in Year 3 was there a strong temperature response in the nitrate removal rate. Less than 1% of the nitrate removed was emitted as N2O. Due to large tile inputs of nitrate (729-2127 kg N) at high concentrations (~30 mg nitrate N L-1) in Years 2 and 3, overall removal efficiency was low (3 and 7% in Years 2 and 3, respectively). Based on a process-based bioreactor performance model, Bioreactor 1 would have needed to be 9 times as large as the current system to remove 50% of the nitrate load from this 20-ha field.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Engineering
- Water Science and Technology
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law