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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Plants in constructed wetlands help to treat agricultural processing wastewater

  • Author(s): Grismer, Mark E
  • Shepherd, Heather L
  • et al.

Over the past three decades, wineries in the western United States and sugarcane processing for ethanol in Central and South America have experienced problems related to the treatment and disposal of process wastewater. Both winery and sugarcane (molasses) wastewaters are characterized by large organic loadings that change seasonally and are detrimental to aquatic life. We examined the role of plants for treating these wastewaters in constructed wetlands. In the greenhouse, subsurface-flow flumes with volcanic rock substrates and plants steadily removed approximately 80% of organic-loading oxygen demand from sugarcane process wastewater after about 3 weeks of plant growth; unplanted flumes removed about 30% less. In field studies at two operational wineries, we evaluated the performance of similar-sized, paired, subsurface constructed wetlands with and without plants; while both removed most of the oxygen demand, removal rates in the planted system were slightly greater and significantly different from those of the unplanted system under field conditions.

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