Bioretention for Phosphorus Removal: Modelling Stormwater Quality Improvements
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Bioretention systems are best management practices (BMPs) that make use of the biogeochemical processes within a forest-type ecosystem to provide at-source stormwater retention and pollutant removal. Laboratory studies and field monitoring have shown great potential for water quantity and quality control through the use of bioretention, but reported nutrient removal has been inconsistent between these systems. In particular, the processes involved in the cycling of phosphorus within bioretention systems are not clearly understood. Some studies report high phosphorus removal from bioretention systems, while phosphorus leaching was observed in other systems. Phosphorus is a macronutrient required by all forms of life. It is also an important water pollutant, as it controls algal growth in most freshwater environments. High phosphorus loadings to these aquatic ecosystems can lead to eutrophication, which has significant ecological, environmental and economical impacts. The Bioretention Phosphorus Removal Model (BPRM), an event-based one-dimensional finite difference model, was developed to simulate phosphorus removal in bioretention systems. The model includes four completely-mixed layers to simulate hydrologic processes as well as both soluble and particulate phosphorus transport in a bioretention system. Model processes include evapotranspiration, infiltration, overflow, exfiltration to native soils, underdrain discharge, soluble phosphorus sorption and vegetative uptake, and particulate phosphorus capture. Monitoring data collected by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) at a bioretention system installed on Seneca College’s King City campus, in Ontario, Canada, was used to evaluate the performance of BPRM. The model was found to overestimate total underdrain discharge volumes, but total phosphorus concentration and mass predictions were found to be useful for design purposes. BPRM correctly predicted phosphorus leaching from the Seneca College bioretention system for all storm events considered but one. The model can be used by practitioners to evaluate the potential for phosphorus leaching in a bioretention system. A detailed sensitivity analysis revealed that BPRM phosphorus transport predictions are particularly sensitive to the drainage properties of bioretention soils, which highlights the importance of hydrologic transport processes for water quality control in bioretention systems. Modelling results suggested that soluble phosphorus desorption from bioretention soils was responsible for phosphorus leaching from the Seneca College bioretention system.