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Wetlands receiving water treated with coagulants improve water quality by removing dissolved organic carbon and disinfection byproduct precursors

May 1, 2018

Constructed wetlands are used worldwide to improve water quality while also providing critical wetland habitat. However, wetlands have the potential to negatively impact drinking water quality by exporting dissolved organic carbon (DOC) that upon disinfection can form disinfection byproducts (DBPs) like trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). We used a replicated field-scale study located on organic rich soils in California's Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to test whether constructed flow-through wetlands which receive water high in DOC that is treated with either iron- or aluminum-based coagulants can improve water quality with respect to DBP formation. Coagulation alone removed DOC (66–77%) and THM (67–70%) precursors, and was even more effective at removing HAA precursors (77–90%). Passage of water through the wetlands increased DOC concentrations (1.5–7.5 mg L− 1), particularly during the warmer summer months, thereby reversing some of the benefits from coagulant addition. Despite this addition, water exiting the wetlands treated with coagulants had lower DOC and DBP precursor concentrations relative to untreated source water. Benefits of the coagulation-wetland systems were greatest during the winter months (approx. 50–70% reduction in DOC and DBP precursor concentrations) when inflow water DOC concentrations were higher and wetland DOC production was lower. Optical properties suggest DOC in this system is predominantly comprised of high molecular weight, aromatic compounds, likely derived from degraded peat soils.