Laboratory Study of Biological Retention for Urban Stormwater Management

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Urban stormwater runoff contains a broad range of pollutants that are transported to natural water systems. A practice known as biological retention (bioretention) has been suggested to manage stormwater runoff from small, developed areas. Bioretention facilities consist of porous soil, a topping layer of hardwood mulch, and a variety of different plant species.

A detailed study of the characteristics and performance of bioretention systems for the removal of several heavy metals (copper, lead, and zinc) and nutrients (phosphorus, total Kjeldahl nitrogen [TKN], ammonium, and nitrate) from a synthetic urban stormwater runoff was completed using batch and column adsorption studies along with pilot-scale laboratory systems. The roles of the soil, mulch, and plants in the removal of heavy metals and nutrients were evaluated to estimate the treatment capacity of laboratory bioretention systems. Reductions in concentrations of all metals were excellent (>90%) with specific metal removals of 15 to 145 mg/m2 per event. Moderate reductions of TKN, ammonium, and phosphorus levels were found (60 to 80%). Little nitrate was removed, and nitrate production was noted in several cases. The importance of the mulch layer in metal removal was identified. Overall results support the use of bioretention as a stormwater best management practice and indicate the need for further research and development.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2001

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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