In many regions of the world, subsidence of organic rich soils threatens levee stability and freshwater supply, and continued oxidative loss of organic matter contributes to greenhouse gas production. To counter subsidence in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of northern California, we examined the feasibility of using constructed wetlands receiving drainage water treated with metal-based coagulants to accrete mineral material along with wetland biomass, while also sequestering carbon in wetland sediment. Nine field-scale wetlands were constructed which received local drainage water that was either untreated (control), or treated with polyaluminum chloride (PAC) or iron sulfate (FeSO4) coagulants. After 23 months of flooding and coagulant treatment, sediment samples were collected near the inlet, middle, and outlet of each wetland to determine vertical accretion rates, bulk density, sediment composition, and carbon sequestration rates. Wetlands treated with PAC had the highest and most spatially consistent vertical accretion rates (~6 cm year-1), while the FeSO4 wetlands had similarly high accretion rates near the inlet but rates similar to the untreated wetland (~1.5 cm year-1) at the middle and outlet sites. The composition of the newly accreted sediment in the PAC and FeSO4 treatments was high in the added metal (aluminum and iron, respectively), but the percent metal by weight was similar to native soils of California. As has been observed in other constructed wetlands, the newly accreted sediment material had lower bulk densities than the native soil material (0.04-0.10 g cm-3 versus 0.2-0.3 g cm-3), suggesting these materials will consolidate over time. Finally, this technology accelerated carbon burial, with rates in PAC treated wetland (0.63 kg C m-2 yr-1) over 2-fold greater than the untreated control (0.28 kg C m-2 yr-1). This study demonstrates the feasibility of using constructed wetlands treated with coagulants to reverse subsidence by accreting the resulting organo-metal flocculent and storing carbon at rates exceeding untreated wetlands. Management and design questions remain for how to best integrate this technology into heavily subsided land to lower the risks and consequences associated with levee failure, improve water quality, and ultimately restore these lands to tidal wetlands.
Additional publication details
Sediment accretion and carbon storage in constructed wetlands receiving water treated with metal-based coagulants