Strategies to mitigate watershed nitrogen export are critical in managing water resources. Green infrastructure (GI) has shown the ability to remove nitrogen from stormwater, but the removal mechanism is unclear. Denitrification removes nitrate from water permanently, making it the most desirable removal mechanism. The year-round field performance of a roadside infiltration GI practice (bioretention) in Northern Virginia was monitored to investigate the transport of nitrogen and the occurrence and contribution of denitrification. Stormwater runoff volumes, nitrogen concentrations, and nitrate isotope ratios (δ15N-NO3- and δ18O-NO3-) were measured at the inlet and outlet of the bioretention during 24 storm events over 14 months. Nitrate concentration reductions (inlet vs. outlet) displayed seasonal trends, with higher reductions happening during warmer events and lower reductions or increases occurring during colder events. Cumulative bioretention nitrate and total dissolved nitrogen load reductions were 73% and 70%, respectively. Two out of 24 monitored events displayed denitrification isotope trends, indicating that although bioretention has denitrification potential, it is infrequent and other nitrogen removal mechanisms (i.e. infiltration and plant uptake) are primarily responsible for nitrogen surface effluent reductions. Only approximately 1.4% of the total reduced nitrate surface effluent load over the monitoring period was attributable to denitrification. Denitrification occurred during two of the largest monitored events, suggesting increased hydraulic retention time (HRT) promotes denitrification. Future GI designs should consider increasing HRT to encourage the important ecosystem service denitrification provides.
Keywords: Denitrification; Green infrastructure; Nitrate; Nitrogen; Stable isotopes; Urban Stormwater.
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