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'Uptake of stormwater nitrogen in bioretention systems determined from 15N Tracer Techniques '
Dasch Houdeshel, University of Utah Kevin Hultine (khultine@dbg.org), Desert Botanical Gardens; Christine Pomeroy (christine.pomeroy@utah.edu), University of Utah

Bioretention stormwater management systems are engineered ecosystems that capture urban stormwater in order to reduce the harmful effects of stormwater pollution on receiving waters. Bioretention systems have been shown to be effective at reducing the volume of runoff, and thereby reduce the nutrient loading to receiving waters from urban areas. However, little work has been done to evaluate the treatment processes that are responsible for reductions in effluent nitrogen (N). We hypothesize that the pulses of inorganic nitrogen associated with urban runoff events are captured in the plat tissues within these systems and not adsorbed to the soil media, thus creating a long-term, sustainable treatment approach to reducing the total nutrient loading to receiving waters. Nitrogen treatment performance was tested on two bioretention systems in Salt Lake City, UT: 1) an upland native community that does not require irrigation in semi-arid climates, and 2) a wetland community that requires 250 l of daily irrigation to offset the relatively high evaporative demand in the region. Each cell is sized to treat a 2.5 cm storm from a 140 m2 impervious surface: the area of the bioretention system is 10 m2. To test the N removal performance of each system, runoff events were simulated to represent an average precipitation regime using a synthetic stormwater blend starting in January, 2012. Effluent was collected from an underdrain and analyzed for total nitrogen (TN); mass removal was calculated for each month by subtracting the TN mass added to the garden minus the TN mass that flowed out of the garden. To test the hypothesis that plants assimilate stormwater N, 4 g of 100 atom% 15N NH4NO3 tracer was used as the N source in the synthetic stormwater during the first 2,000 l synthetic storm event in May. This isotopic label was calculated to enrich the total N pool of each garden to 100‰ 15N/14Nair. New growth was harvested from each plant in both cells and analyzed for 15N before the isotopic label was introduced and weekly thereafter. In May 2012, the upland garden captured 6.2 grams of TN from the added stormwater (55% of TN added), and the wetland garden captured 7.1 grams of TN from the added stormwater (67% of TN added). Within two weeks of adding the label, the 15N ratio increased 500‰ to 3,000‰ in all plant tissues tested in both systems. The results of the isotopic labeling experiment support the hypothesis that the plants used in both vegetated bioretention systems directly contribute to stormwater N treatment through N assimilation.