In this work a set of experiments was undertaken in a pilot-scale WSP system to determine the importance of organic nitrogen sedimentation on ammonium and total nitrogen removals in maturation ponds and its seasonal variation under British weather conditions, from September 2004 to May 2007. The nitrogen content in collected sediment samples varied from 4.17% to 6.78% (dry weight) and calculated nitrogen sedimentation rates ranged from 273 to 2868 g N/ha d. High ammonium removals were observed together with high concentrations of chlorophyll-a in the pond effluent. Moreover, chlorophyll-a had a very good correlation with the corresponding increment of VSS (algal biomass) and suspended organic nitrogen (biological nitrogen uptake) in the maturation pond effluents. Therefore, when ammonium removal reached its maximum, total nitrogen removal was very poor as most of the ammonia taken up by algae was washed out in the pond effluent in the form of suspended solids. After sedimentation of the dead algal biomass, it was clear that algal-cell nitrogen was recycled from the sludge layer into the pond water column. Recycled nitrogen can either be taken up by algae or washed out in the pond effluent. Biological (mainly algal) uptake of inorganic nitrogen species and further sedimentation of dead biomass (together with its subsequent mineralization) is one of the major mechanisms controlling in-pond nitrogen recycling in maturation WSP, particularly when environmental and operational conditions are favourable for algal growth.
Keywords: algal nitrogen uptake, maturation pond, nitrogen removal, sedimentation