A 9.9-ha constructed wetland designed to reduce nitrogen in municipal wastewater following conventional secondary treatment began operating in southern California's San Jacinto Valley in September 1994. The wetland incorporated zones of bulrush (Schoenoplectus acutus and S. californicus) for effluent treatment, plus areas of 1.8-m deep open water and other features to benefit wintering waterfowl. A one-year long program to monitor bird use and evaluate their contribution to loadings of nitrogen and phosphorus was initiated seven months later and a second, four-month long period of monitoring was initiated after a 20-month hiatus. Daily bird use peaked at nearly 12,000 individuals during the second period. Estimates of maximum daily nitrogen and phosphorus input by birds were 139 g N ha−1 day−1 and 56 g P ha−1 day−1. Following a reconfiguration of the wetland that increased the area of open water, a third year-long period of monitoring was initiated in September 2000. Estimated maximum daily loading attributable to birds during this period reached 312 g N ha−1 day−1 and 124 g P ha−1 day−1. These levels represent only 2.6% and 7.0%, respectively, of the mean daily loads of N and P in inflow water from the wastewater-treatment plant. Wintering waterfowl contributed the most to nutrient loading, but the numerically dominant species was the colonial Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). The wetland's nutrient-removal efficiency was negatively correlated to bird loading. However, the greatest bird loading occurred during November to March, when winter conditions would reduce microbial nutrient-removal processes and plant uptake in the wetland. Multiple regression analysis indicated that variation in nutrient removal efficiency over a one-year period was best explained by wetland water temperature (R2 = 0.21) and that little additional insight was gained by adding bird loading and inflow nutrient load data (R2 = 0.22). This case study supports the concept that a constructed wetland can be designed both to reduce nutrients in municipal wastewater and to provide habitat for wetland birds.
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Vol. 23 • No. 2