2019 journal article
A Retrospective Comparison of Water Quality Treatment in a Bioretention Cell 16 Years Following Initial Analysis
Sustainability, 11(7), 1945.
One of the most popular stormwater practices in (sub-)urban North Carolina is bioretention. While bioretention has been researched intensively to determine the most efficient designs, few long-term studies have attempted to assess the performance of older bioretention. However, previous research and design guidance for bioretention has predicted long-term water quality treatment. This study compared discharged concentrations and loads of nitrogen and phosphorus from a bioretention cell (1) post-construction and (2) following 17 years of treatment. A conventionally-drained bioretention cell with lateral underdrains in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, was first monitored post-construction for 10-months from 2002–2003 and, again following continuous use, for 14 months from 2017–2018. Estimated mass load reductions during the initial monitoring period were 40% for total nitrogen (TN) and 65% for total phosphorus (TP). Mass load reductions were increased 17 years after construction, with reductions of 72% and 79% for TN and TP, respectively. Plant growth, death, and decay over the 17-year life of the bioretention cell are hypothesized to have contributed additional nitrogen assimilation and carbon to the fill media, serving as a catalyst for nitrogen treatment. Phosphorus removal remained relatively unchanged between the two monitoring periods. Filter media samples indicated the top 20 cm of filter media were nearing phosphorus saturation, but with 1.2 m of filter media, lower depths would most likely continue to provide treatment. If designed, built, and maintained correctly, bioretention appears to provide sustained treatment of stormwater runoff for nitrogen and phosphorus for nearly two decades, and likely longer.