Detention basins could catch more than stormwater

By Pennsylvania State University

A wet detention basin contains a large amount of water after a storm, making conversion of nitrate to gaseous nitrogen more complete. IMAGE: LAUREN E. PHILLIPS, PENN STATE

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Everywhere you go there are stormwater detention basins built near large construction projects intended to control the flow of rainwater and runoff. Now, those basins might help in controlling nitrogen runoff into rivers and lakes, according to Lauren E. McPhillips, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Penn State.

Speaking today (Aug. 12) at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Louisville, Kentucky, she explained that she and colleagues at Cornell University looked at stormwater detention basins in the area around Ithaca, New York.

“Part of the goal for stormwater detention basins is to manage flow,” said McPhillips. “Increasingly, we are trying to get more water quality goals out of them.”

Controlling runoff from rain and trapping sediment has always been a goal of these ubiquitous basins, but new techniques may make them suitable for removing nitrate from the water as well. The basins the researchers examined are in urban and suburban areas, and nitrate comes from atmospheric deposition on roads, car combustion and lawn fertilizers.

“These basins have always been treated as black boxes looking at water in and percentage efficiency,” said McPhillips. “However, different designs of these basins perform differently, and now we are looking at performance and specific mechanisms for removal of nitrogen.”

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