Evaluation of Pilot-Scale Constructed Wetlands with Phragmites karka for Phytoremediation of Municipal Wastewater and Biomass Production in Ethiopia

  • Kenatu AngassaEmail author
  • Seyoum Leta
  • Worku Mulat
  • Helmut Kloos
  • Erik Meers
Original Article


A pilot horizontal subsurface flow constructed wetland (HSSFCW) was constructed, covered with geomembrane, and packed with gravel as substrate. Phragmites karka was planted in one cell and the other cell was left unplanted. The experiment was carried out over a 3-year period at two hydraulic loading rates (HLRs): 0.025 m/d and 0.05 m/d. The aim of the study was to evaluate the phytoremediation and biomass production potential of Phragmites karka for municipal wastewater treatment to remove chemical oxygen demand (COD), total nitrogen (TN), and total phosphorus (TP). The highest average COD, TN, and TP removal performances attained were 94.1%, 97.3%, and 89.9%, respectively, at HLR of 0.025 m/d, and 90.4%, 86.8%, and 88.5%, respectively, at HLR of 0.05 m/d. COD, TN, and TP removal performances were considerably higher in the planted HSSFCW than in the unplanted (p < 0.05). The study found: a progressive increase in plant density, from 3 ± 1 to 113 ± 43 shoots per m2; an increase in plant height (erect), from 8 to 365 cm; and growth of the running stem of P. karka (stolon) to 16 m after 16 months. The maximum nutrient content and nutrient accumulation of the above-ground biomass of P. karka recorded were 78.7 gN/kg DW and 21.6 gP/kg DW, and 2014.7 gN/m2 and 550.4 gP/m2 throughout the experimental period. The findings from the experiments showed the successful performance of the HSSFCW cell planted with P. karka for the treatment of municipal wastewater. P. karka demonstrated high biomass production and high nutrient removal performance. We conclude that scaling up this pilot HSSFCW has great potential for treating municipal wastewater in Ethiopia and other low-income countries with similar climatic conditions.


Constructed wetland Phragmites karka Nutrients Plant biomass Phytoremediation 



The authors thank Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources, Addis Ababa University (AAU), which supervised the financial support provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Research Fund for International Young Scientists (Grant Agreement No: W/5799-1). The authors are also thankful to the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority for allowing the pilot-scale constructed wetland system on the premises of its wastewater treatment plant and the laboratory facilities. The authors also acknowledge the University of Connecticut for access to its electronic library and Ann Byers for editing the English language manuscript at short notice.

Authors’ Contributions

The first author conducted experiments in the field and wrote the manuscript. The other authors supervised the experimental site and structured, read, edited, and approved the final manuscript. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.


This work was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Research Fund for International Young Scientists (Grant Agreement No: W/5799–1).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval and Consent to Participate

Not applicable.

Consent for Publication

Not applicable.

Availability of Supporting Data

Supporting data available.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenatu Angassa
    • 1
    Email author
  • Seyoum Leta
    • 2
  • Worku Mulat
    • 3
  • Helmut Kloos
    • 4
  • Erik Meers
    • 5
  1. 1.Ethiopian Institute of Water ResourcesAddis Ababa UniversityAddis AbabaEthiopia
  2. 2.Center for Environmental Science, College of Natural ScienceAddis Ababa UniversityAddis AbabaEthiopia
  3. 3.Department of Environmental HealthWollo UniversityDessieEthiopia
  4. 4.Department of Epidemiology and BiostatisticsUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA
  5. 5.Department of Green Chemistry and TechnologyGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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