Skip to main content

Recommendations for the Use of Tundra Wetlands for Treatment of Municipal Wastewater in Canada’s Far North

Part of the Environmental Contamination Remediation and Management book series (ENCRMA)

Abstract

The treatment of domestic wastewater is logistically challenging in remote Arctic and sub-Arctic communities due to technical, economic and social factors. In some circumpolar countries, raw sewage with minimal to no treatment is released to marine or freshwater environments with the assumption that the wastewater constituents are quickly diluted to levels that are not harmful to environmental or human health. In many northern communities in Canada, primary treatment occurs in sewage lagoons before being intentionally decanted, or slowly released as wastewater leaks (by design or unintentional) through the berms of the lagoons (i.e., exfiltration) to the surrounding landscape, which is often covered by natural tundra wetlands. The tundra wetlands of northern Canada which are the focus of this chapter are unlike constructed wetlands which are engineered to treat wastewater under defined hydraulic conditions and loading regimes to meet specific treatment performance targets. These tundra wetlands should not be confused with constructed wetland (e.g., designed) technologies used within other cold climate regions. The work presented below is believed by the authors to be the first comprehensive review of natural tundra areas used for the treatment of domestic wastewaters and their use in Canada is thought to be unique within circumpolar regions. This work describes a series of studies undertaken by Fleming College and Dalhousie University which have demonstrated that in most cases the natural tundra wetlands provide ancillary treatment beyond what is often achieved in the sewage lagoons and in this manner provides a valued benefit to wastewater treatment within Canada’s far north and is a treatment strategy that may be appropriate in other circumpolar regions. The findings from this investigation show that the concentration reductions for 5-day carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand (CBOD5), total ammonia nitrogen (TAN), and total phosphorus (TP) typically range between 80 and 90% as the treated effluent leaves the wetland. The measure of total suspended solids (TSS) was not found to be a reliable indicator of treatment performance since some wetlands can generate TSS internally. Vegetation inventories were also conducted on tundra wetlands used for wastewater treatment and on control sites not exposed to wastewater. Findings indicate that a high abundance of Carex aquatilis was found in treatment wetlands. Laboratory studies illustrated that this sedge has an ability to enhance the reduction of organic nitrogen, ammonia and oxidized nitrogen even when temperatures were less than 5 °C. This chapter discusses key factors that influence the performance of tundra wetlands, with a focus on wastewater strength, hydrology, and seasonal variability. Monitoring of these remote wetlands presents unique challenges related to sample collection and analysis; the selection of representative collection sites; and the determination of seasonal and inter-annular variability, are two examples. We share insights into these challenges commenting on practical solutions, predictive tools related to treatment performance and the identification of knowledge gaps. The intent of this chapter is to provide readers an overview of what is currently known about tundra treatment wetlands in Canada’s Far North, and to present recommendations for how these sites, under certain conditions, can be used as a polishing component of the treatment train.

Keywords

  • Natural wetland
  • Tundra
  • Assimilation
  • Wastewater
  • Arctic

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 3.1
Fig. 3.2
Fig. 3.3
Fig. 3.4
Fig. 3.5
Fig. 3.6
Fig. 3.7
Fig. 3.8
Fig. 3.9
Fig. 3.10
Fig. 3.11

References

  • Aiken SG (2007) Flora of the Canadian arctic archipelago. NRC Research Press: Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

    Google Scholar 

  • Alberta Environment (2000) Guidelines for the approval and design of natural and constructed treatment wetlands for water quality improvements. No. t/518.Municipal Program Development Branch, Environmental Sciences Division

    Google Scholar 

  • Allen WC, Hook PB, Biederman JA, Stein OR (2002) Temperature and wetland plant species effects on wastewater treatment and root zone oxidation. J Environ Qual 31:1010–1016

    CAS  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • APHA (2012) Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater. American Public Health Association, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Cadieux MC, Gauthier G, Hughes RJ (2005) Feeding ecology of Canada geese (branta canadensis interior) in sub-arctic inland tundra during brood-rearing. Auk 122(1):144–157

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Chapin FS (1983) Direct and indirect effects of temperature on arctic plants. Polar Biol 2(1):47–52

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Chapin FS, Shaver GR (1985) Individualistic growth-response of tundra plant-species to environmental manipulations in the field. Ecology 66(2):564–576

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Chapin FS, Shaver GR, Giblin AE, Nadelhoffer KJ, Laundre JA (1995) Responses of arctic tundra to experimental and observed changes in climate. Ecology 76(3):694–711

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Chapin FS, Chapin MC (1981) Ecotypic differentiation of growth processes in Carex aquatilis along latitudinal and local gradients. Ecology 62(4):1000–1009

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Chaves-Barquero LG, Luong KH, Mundy CJ, Knapp CW, Hanson ML, Wong CS (2016) The release of wastewater contaminants in the Arctic: a case study from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada. Environ Pollut 218:542–550

    CAS  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Chouinard A, Balch GC, Jørgensen SE, Wootton BC, Anderson BC, Yates CN (2014a) Tundra wetlands: the treatment of municipal wastewaters—RBC Blue Water Project: performance and predictive tools (manual only). Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment, Fleming College, Lindsay, ON, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  • Chouinard A, Yates CN, Balch GC, Jørgensen SE, Wootton BC, Anderson BC (2014b) Management of tundra wastewater treatment wetlands within a lagoon/wetland hybridized treatment system using the SubWet 2.0 wetland model. Water 6(3):439–454

    CAS  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Chouinard A, Yates CN, Balch GC, Wootton BC, Anderson B, Jørgensen SE (2014c) SubWet 2.0. Modelling the performance of treatment wetlands in a cold climate. In: Jørgensen SE, Chang N-B, Xu F (eds) Ecological modelling and engineering of lakes and wetlands. Elsevier, New York, NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Cornelissen JHC, Callaghan TV, Alatalo JM, Michelsen A, Graglia E, Hartley AE (2001) Global change and arctic ecosystems: is lichen decline a function of increases in vascular plant biomass? J Ecol 89(6):984–994

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Daley K, Castleden H, Jamieson R, Furgal C, Ell L (2014) Municipal water quantities and health in Nunavut households: an exploratory case study in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, Canada. Int J Circumpolar Health 73:15–28

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Doku IA, Heinke GW (1995) Potential for greater use of wetlands for waste treatment in northern Canada. J Cold Reg Eng 9(2):75–88

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Doku IA, Heinke GW (1993) The potential for use of wetlands for wastewater treatment in the northwest territories. Report prepared for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. Government of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, NT, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  • Dubuc Y, Janneteau P, Labonte R, Roy C, Briere F (1986) Domestic waste-water treatment by peatlands in a northern climate—a water-quality study. Water Resour Bull 22(2):297–303

    CAS  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Environmental Laboratory (1987) Corps of Engineers wetlands delineation manual. Technical Report Y-87-1. U.S. Army Engineer Water-ways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, MS

    Google Scholar 

  • Gebauer RLE, Reynolds JF, Tenhunen JD (1995) Growth and allocation of the arctic sedges Erophorum angustifolium and E. vaginatum: effects of variable soil oxygen and nutrient availability. Oecologia 104(3):330–339

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Gough L, Wookey PA, Shaver GR (2002) Dry heath arctic tundra responses to long-term nutrient and light manipulation. Arct Antarct Alp Res 34(2):211–218

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Gregersen P, Brix H (2001) Zero-discharge of nutrients and water in a willow dominated constructed wetland. Water Sci Technol 44:407–412

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Gunnarsdóttir R, Jenssen PD, Jensen PE, Villumsen A, Kallenborn R (2013) A review of wastewater handling in the Arctic with special reference to pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and microbial pollution. Ecol Eng 50:76–85

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hayward J (2013) Treatment performance assessment and modeling of a natural tundra wetland receiving municipal wastewater. MASc dissertation, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  • Hayward J, Jamieson R (2015) Derivation of treatment rate constants for an arctic tundra wetland receiving primary treated municipal wastewater. Ecol Eng 82:165–174

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hayward J, Jamieson R, Boutilier L, Goulden T, Lam B (2014) Treatment performance assessment and hydrological characterization of an arctic tundra wetland receiving primary treated municipal wastewater. Ecol Eng 73:786–797

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hobbie SE (2007) Arctic ecology. In: Pugnaire FI, Valladares F (eds) Functional plant ecology, 2nd edn. CRC Press, New York, pp 369–388

    Google Scholar 

  • Hobbie SE, Gough L, Shaver GR (2005) Species compositional differences on different-aged glacial landscapes drive contrasting responses of tundra to nutrient addition. J Ecol 93(4):770–782

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Huber S, Remberger M, Kaj L, Schlabach M, Jörudsdόttir H, Vester J, Arnόrsson M, Mortensen I, Schwartson R, Dam M (2016) A first screening and risk assessment of pharmaceuticals and additives in personal care products in waste water, sludge, recipient water and sediments from Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland. Sci Total Environ 562:13–25

    CAS  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hulten E (1968) Flora of Alaska and neighboring territories. A manual of the vascular plants. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA

    Google Scholar 

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2014) Fifth assessment report (AR5). http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/. Accessed 8 Mar 2016

  • Jamieson R, Hayward J (2016) Guidelines for the design and assessment of tundra wetland treatment areas in Nunavut. Centre for Water Resources Studies, Dalhousie University. Technical report prepared for the Community and Government Services department of the Government of Nunavut. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson K, Prosko G, Lycon D (2014) The challenge with mechanical wastewater systems in the Far North. Conference proceeding paper at: Western Canada Water Conference and Exhibition, Regina, SK, Canada, 23–26 September 2014

    Google Scholar 

  • Jonasson S, Shaver GR (1999) Within-stand nutrient cycling in arctic and boreal wetlands. Ecology 80(7):2139–2150

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Jørgensen SE, Gromiec MJ (2011) Mathematical models in biological waste water treatment—Chapter 7.6. In: Jørgensen SE, Fath BD (eds) Fundamentals of ecological modelling, Applications in environmental management and research, vol 23, 4th edn. Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, pp 1–414

    Google Scholar 

  • Ju W, Chen JM (2008) Simulating the effects of past changes in climate, atmospheric composition, and fire disturbances on soil carbon in Canada’s forests and wetlands. Biogeochem. Cycles 22(3):GB3010

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kadlec RH, Wallace S (2009) Treatment wetlands. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL

    Google Scholar 

  • Kadlec RH, Bevis FB (2009) Wastewater treatment at the Houghton Lake wetland: vegetation response. Ecol Eng 35(9):1312–1332

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kadlec RH, Knight RL (1996) Treatment wetlands. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL

    Google Scholar 

  • Kadlec RH (1987) Northern natural wetland water treatment systems. In: Reddy KR, Smith WH (eds) Aquatic plants for water treatment and resource recovery. Magnolia Publishing, Orlando, FL, pp 83–98

    Google Scholar 

  • Kotanen PM (2002) Fates of added nitrogen in freshwater arctic wetlands grazed by snow geese: the role of mosses. Arct Antarct Alp Res 34(2):219–225

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Krkosek WH, Ragush C, Boutilier L, Sinclair A, Krumhansl K, Gagnon GA, Lam B (2012) Treatment performance of wastewater stabilization ponds in Canada’s Far North. Cold Regions Engineering:612–622

    Google Scholar 

  • Krumhansl K, Krkosek W, Greenwood M, Ragush C, Schmidt J, Grant J, Barrell J, Lu L, Lam B, Gagnon G, Jamieson R (2014) Assessment of arctic community wastewater impacts on marine benthic invertebrates. Environ Sci Technol 49(2):760–766

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Mudroch A, Capobianco JA (1979) Effects of treated effluent on a natural marsh. J Water Pollut Control Fed 51:2243–2256

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Murray JL (1991) Biomass allocation and nutrient pool in major muskoxen-grazed communities in sverdrup pass, 79°N, Ellesmere island, N.W.T., Canada. M.Sc. dissertation, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  • Nadelhoffer KJ, Giblin AE, Shaver GR, Laundre JA (1991) Effects of temperature and substrate quality on element mineralization in six arctic soils. Ecology 72(1):242–253

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ngai JT, Jefferies RL (2004) Nutrient limitation of plant growth and forage quality in arctic coastal marshes. J Ecol 92(6):1001–1010

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Pineau C (1999) Facteurs limitant la croissance des plantes graminoides et des mousses dans les polygones de tourbe utilisespar la grande oie des neiges. M.Sc. dissertation, Université de Laval, Quebec City, QC, Canada, 72 p

    Google Scholar 

  • Porsild AE, Cody WI (1980) Vascular plants of continental Northwest Territories, National Museum of Natural Sciences, Ottawa, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  • Press MC, Potter JA, Burke MJW, Callaghan TV, Lee JA (1998) Responses of a subarctic dwarf shrub heath community to simulated environmental change. J Ecol 86(2):315–327

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ragush CM, Schmidt JJ, Krkosek WH (2015) Performance of municipal waste stabilization ponds in the Canadian Arctic. Ecol Eng 83:413–421

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Raillard MC (1992) Influence of muskox grazing on plant communities of sverdrup pass (79°N), Ellesmere island, N.W.T. Canada. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada, 262 p

    Google Scholar 

  • Reed PB (1988) National list of plant species that occur in wetlands. Biological report 88 (24). National Wetlands Inventory (U.S.), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Statistics Canada (2012) Nunavut (Code 62) and Canada (Code 01) (table). Census Profile. 2011 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98–316-XWE. Ottawa. Released October 24, 2012. Available online at: http://www.12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/index.cfm?Lang=E. Accessed 6 Aug 2016

  • Stein OR, Hook PB (2005) Temperature, plants and oxygen: how does season affect constructed wetland performance? J Environ Sci Health 40:1331–1342

    CAS  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Tchobanoglous G, Burton FL, Stensel HD (2003) In: Metcalf & Eddy, Inc. (ed) Wastewater engineering: treatment, disposal, and reuse, 4th edn. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Tilton DL, Kadlec RH (1979) The utilization of a fresh-water wetland for nutrient removal from secondarily treated waste water effluent. J Environ Qual 8:328–334

    CAS  CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Tolvanen A, Alatalo JM, Henry GHR (2004) Resource allocation patterns in a forb and a sedge in two arctic environments—short-term response to herbivory. Nord J Bot 22(6):741–747

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Wasley J, Robinson SA, Lovelock CE, Popp M (2006) Climate change manipulations show antarctic flora is more strongly affected by elevated nutrients than water. Glob Chang Biol 12(9):1800–1812

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Wittgren HB, Maehlum T (1997) Wastewater treatment wetlands in cold climates. Water Sci Technol 35(5):45–53

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Woo MK, Young KL (2003) Hydrogeomorphology of patchy wetlands in the high arctic, polar desert environment. Wetlands 23(2):291–309

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Yates CN, Varickanickal J, Cousins S, Wootton BC (2016) Testing the ability to enhance nitrogen removal at cold temperatures with C. aquatilis in a horizontal flow wetland system. Ecol Eng 94:344–351

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Yates CN (2012) Developing an understanding for wastewater treatment in remote communities of Nunavut, Canada: investigating the performance, planning, practice and function of tundra and constructed treatment wetlands. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  • Yates CN, Wootton BC, Balch GC (2014b) Framing the need for application of ecological engineering in Arctic environments. In: Jørgensen SE, Chang N-B, Fuliu X (eds) Ecological modelling and engineering of lakes and wetlands. Elsevier, New York, NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Yates CN, Balch GC, Wootton BC, Jørgensen SE (2014a) Practical aspects, logistical challenges, and regulatory considerations for modelling and managing treatment wetlands in the Arctic. In: Jørgensen SE, Chang N-B, Fuliu X (eds) Ecological modelling and engineering of lakes and wetlands. Elsevier, New York, NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Yates CN, Wootton BC, Murphy SD (2012) Performance assessment of Arctic tundra municipal wastewater treatment wetlands through an Arctic summer. Ecol Eng 44:160–173

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Yates CN, Wootton BC, Jorgensen SE, Murphy SD (2013) Wastewater treatment: wetlands use in Arctic regions. In: Encyclopedia of environmental management. Taylor and Francis, New York, pp 2662–2674

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the Canadian Government and their contributions to the International Polar Year program along with Environment Canada, the RBC Blue Water Foundation and the Community and Government Services division of the Government of Nunavut, the Canadian Water Network, and NSERC for funding support that made this work possible. The authors would also like to thank Jamal Shirley and the Nunavut Research Institute for support with the Northern Water Quality laboratory.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gordon Balch .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2018 Springer International Publishing AG

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Balch, G., Hayward, J., Jamieson, R., Wootton, B., Yates, C.N. (2018). Recommendations for the Use of Tundra Wetlands for Treatment of Municipal Wastewater in Canada’s Far North. In: Nagabhatla, N., Metcalfe, C. (eds) Multifunctional Wetlands. Environmental Contamination Remediation and Management. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-67416-2_3

Download citation