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Factors Diminishing the Effectiveness of Phosphorus Loading from Municipal Effluent: Critical Information for TMDL Analyses

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Factors that diminish the effectiveness of phosphorus inputs from a municipal wastewater treatment facility (Metro) in contributing to phosphorus levels and its availability to support algae growth in a culturally eutrophic urban lake (Onondaga Lake, NY) were characterized and quantified. These factors included the bioavailability and settling characteristics of particulate phosphorus from this effluent, the dominant form (70%) of phosphorus in this input, and the plunging of the discharge to stratified layers in the lake. Supporting studies included: (1) chemical and morphometric characterization of the phosphorus-enriched particles of this effluent, compared to particle populations of the tributaries and lake, with an individual particle analysis technique; (2) conduct of algal bioavailability assays of the particulate phosphorus of the effluent; (3) conduct of multiple size class settling velocity measurements on effluent particles; and (4) determinations of the propensity of the discharge to plunge, and documentation of plunging through three-dimensional monitoring of a tracer adjoining the outfall. All of these diminishing effects were found to be operative for the Metro effluent in Onondaga Lake and will be integrated into a forthcoming phosphorus “total maximum daily load” analysis for the lake, through appropriate representation in a supporting mechanistic water quality model. The particulate phosphorus in the effluent was associated entirely with Fe-rich particles formed in the phosphorus treatment process. These particles did not contribute to concentrations in pelagic portions of the lake, due to local deposition associated with their large size. Moreover, this particulate phosphorus was found to be nearly entirely unavailable to support algae growth. While substantial differences are to be expected for various inputs, the effective loading concept and the approaches adopted here to assess the diminishing factors are broadly applicable.
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Keywords: bioavailability; loads; phosphorus; plunging inflows; settling velocity

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-03-01

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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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