Constructed wetlands for water quality improvement: A synthesis on nutrient reduction from agricultural effluents

Tiffany L. Messer, Trisha L. Moore, Natalie Nelson, Laurent Ahiablame, Eban Z. Bean, Chelsie Boles, Sonja L. Cook, Steven G. Hall, John McMaine, Derek Schlea

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Excess nutrients from agricultural settings contribute to surface water and groundwater impairment. Constructed wetlands have been widely used for water quality protection in various agricultural systems. We used a synthesis approach to document the performance of constructed wetlands for nutrient removal from a range of landscapes and geographic regions with the following objectives: (1) review the current use of constructed wetlands in agricultural applications, (2) summarize the nutrient removal efficiency of constructed wetlands, and (3) identify the geographic usage and costs associated with constructed wetlands. We reviewed over 130 publications and reports to characterize nutrient removal performance for the following types of agricultural effluents: cropland surface and subsurface drainage, and wastewater from livestock production, greenhouse, aquaculture, and hydroponic systems. Data from the reviewed studies indicate that constructed wetlands are efficient in protecting water quality in agricultural production settings. However, differences in constructed wetland characteristics reported by the studies suggest that standards are needed to ensure nutrient removal goals are met based on wetland design. Researchers should consider including basic performance parameters for constructed wetlands in published reports, including influent and effluent concentrations, hydraulic retention time, hydraulic loading rate, watershed to treatment wetland ratios, and plant species and relative cover. Future studies are needed to explore cost-benefit analyses to assess the feasibility and potential promotion of wetland incentive programs in various geographic regions and watershed nonpoint-source pollution goals for using these systems in agricultural settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)625-639
Number of pages15
JournalTransactions of the ASABE
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project is based on research that was partially supported by the Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station with funding from the Hatch capacity funding program (Accession No. 1014685), Hatch multistate capacity funding (Grant No. W-4045), the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers


  • Agricultural wastewater
  • Agricultural water quality
  • Aquaculture
  • Cropland runoff
  • Greenhouse
  • Hydroponic
  • Livestock
  • Review
  • Subsurface
  • Treatment wetland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Food Science
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


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