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<International Source Book On Environmentally Sound Technologies
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4.2.3 Lagoons

Ponding or lagooning is effective in treating wastewater and can reduce BOD and SS to the same levels as mechanical treatment plants (e.g. Activated Sludge Treatment). In addition because of the longer residence time of wastewater in the lagoon (in the order of days), removal of pathogenic bacteria and viruses by natural die-off is greater than in an activated sludge treatment plant (residence time of the order of hours). Cysts of parasites and helminth eggs are also usually removed through sedimentation in the lagoons.

A lagoon is a shallow excavation in the ground (1 to 2 m deep). It is generally unlined and percolation of wastewater into the soil and groundwater takes place. With time the percolation rate will reduce, because of formation of a sediment layer. Evaporation loss of water can be significant in arid climate regions. The soil itself is, however, not involved in the physical and biochemical wastewater treatment processes taking place in the lagoon. A lagoon can therefore be lined with a layer of clay or with an impermeable plastic membrane if protection of groundwater is desired, without affecting the performance of the lagoon. Wastewater lagoons are also called 'waste stabilisation lagoons', because the organic substances in the wastewater are converted to more stable (less degradable) forms.

The following processes take place in a lagoon. As wastewater enters a lagoon sedimentation of solids occurs. Because of the long residence time of the wastewater in the lagoon system, much of the solids in the original wastewater are removed. Aeration of the water from the atmosphere occurs by a process of diffusion aided by turbulence caused by wind movement on the surface of the water. This process is the same as the natural process of aeration of a lake described in Section 2 (2.2).

Oxygen is also supplied by algae in the lagoon which thrive on the nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) released by the decomposition of the organic wastes. The photosynthetic activity of algae, however, only takes place when there is sunlight. Thus oxygen produced by photosynthesis is only available during this period. A symbiotic relationship exists between the bacteria and the algae. Bacteria take up oxygen and release carbondioxide, while algae take up carbondioxide released by the bacteria and produce oxygen for the bacteria (Figure 2.26).

Figure 2.26: Symbiotic relationship between bacteria and algae in a wastewater lagoon

Depending on the oxygen demand of the bacteria in the lagoon, the following conditions occur:

Anaerobic lagoon The oxygen demand of the bacteria exceeds oxygen supply by surface aeration and algal photosynthesis. Biodegradation of the organic wastes is by anaerobic bacteria. Methane gas is a by-product (Section 2 (2.3)). Odorous gases are produced, but impact is reduced when a layer of scum forms at the water surface.
Facultative lagoon The oxygen demand of the bacteria is met by surface aeration and algal photosynthesis, but is not met when the latter is not active. The water environment is aerobic during the day, but turns anaerobic at night. Biodegradation of organic wastes is by facultative bacteria, which can operate under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions.
Aerobic lagoon The oxygen demand of the bacteria is met by surface aeration and algal photosynthesis.

It is common to have a series of lagoons with the first one or two being anaerobic lagoons, the middle ones facultative lagoons and the last few aerobic lagoons. The sediment at the bottom of lagoons is anaerobic, and undergoes anaerobic bacterial decomposition. The first lagoon in a series will eventually be filled with solids. The sludge produced can be removed and treated for re-use or disposal (Section 2 (6)) or allowed to undergo further biodegradation in the lagoon prior to re-use. Anaerobic lagoons can be made deeper so that more sludge can be accommodated and the need to remove sludge made less frequent.

Lagoon performance is affected by temperature. At a higher ambient temperature (e.g. in the tropics) a shorter residence time of wastewater in the lagoon is required to achieve the same level of treatment compared to when the temperature is lower. Because algae are present in treatment lagoons, they leave with the treated effluent. One way of harvesting the algae is through aquaculture (see Section 2 (6)).

Oxygen transfer from the atmosphere into lagoons can be increased by mechanically agitating the surface of the water. This can be done by using a vertically mounted impeller, and the lagoon becomes more like the aeration tank of an activated sludge process. The agitation can also be provided using a horizontally mounted rotor. A configuration that can be used to apply this is a circular ditch (Figure 2.27), and the water is continuously circulated around the ditch so that its movement is like that in a river.

Figure 2.27: Oxidation ditch


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