Effects of land disposal of municipal sewage sludge on fate of nitrates in soil, streambed sediment, and water quality

Journal of Hydrology
By: , and 



This study was undertaken to determine the effects of sewage-sludge disposal at the Lowry sewage-sludge-disposal area, near Denver, Colorado, on ground- and surface-water quality, to determine the fate of nitrates from sludge leachate, and to determine the source areas of leachate and the potential for additional leaching from the disposal area.

Sewage-sludge disposal began in 1969. Two methods were used to apply the sludge: burial and plowing. Also, the sludge was applied both in liquid and cake forms. Data in this report represent the chemical composition of soil and streambed sediment from seven soil- and four streambed-sampling sites in 1986, chemical and bacterial composition of ground water from 28 wells from 1981 to 1987, and surface-water runoff from seven water-sampling sites from 1984 to 1987. Ground water samples were obtained from alluvial and bedrock aquifers. Samples of soil, streambed sediment, ground water and surface water were obtained for onsite measurement and chemical analysis. Measurements included determination of nitrogen compounds and major cations and anions, fecal-coliform and -streptococcus bacteria, specific conductance, and pH.

Thirteen wells in the alluvial aquifer in Region 3 of the study area contain water that was probably affected by sewage-sludge leachate. The plots of concentration of nitrate with time show seasonal trends and trends caused by precipitation. In addition to yearly fluctuation, there were noticeable increases in ground-water concentrations of nitrate that coincided with increased precipitation. After 3 years of annual ground-water-quality monitoring and 4 years of a quarterly sampling program, it has been determined that leachate from the sewage-sludge-disposal area caused increased nitrite plus nitrate (as nitrogen) concentration in the alluvial ground water at the site. Soil analyses from the disposal area indicate that organic nitrogen was the dominant form of nitrogen in the soil.

As a result of investigations at the research site, it has been determined that a potentially large source of contamination exists in the soils of the study area owing to increased concentrations of nitrogen, sodium, calcium, magnesium, sulfate, bicarbonate, and chloride because of sewage disposal. Continued monitoring of surface and ground water for nitrogen and the other ions previously mentioned is required to assess long-term effects of municipal sludge disposal on water quality.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Effects of land disposal of municipal sewage sludge on fate of nitrates in soil, streambed sediment, and water quality
Series title Journal of Hydrology
DOI 10.1016/0022-1694(94)90027-2
Volume 163
Issue 1-2
Year Published 1994
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 39 p.
First page 147
Last page 185
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