31 Aug 2021

31 Aug 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal SOIL.

Reusing Fe water treatment residual as a soil amendment to improve physical function and flood resilience

Heather С. Kerr, Karen L. Johnson, and David G. Toll Heather С. Kerr et al.
  • Department of Engineering, Durham University, Durham, DH13LE, United Kingdom

Abstract. Soil degradation is a global challenge that is intrinsically linked to climate change and food security. Soil degradation has many causes, but all degraded soils suffer from poor soil structure. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 12, 13 and 15 strive towards responsible consumption and production, building a zero-waste circular economy, achieving net zero by 2030 and reversing land degradation to protect one of our most valuable assets, soil. Global efforts to stop and even reverse soil degradation require sources of both organic and inorganic materials to rebuild soil structure. The increasing global production of water treatment residual (WTR), an organo-mineral waste product from clean water treatment, means that the sustainable reuse of this waste provides a potential timely opportunity. Recycling or reuse of WTR to land is commonplace across the world but is subject to limitations based on the chemical properties of the material. Very little work has focused on the physical impacts of Fe-WTR application and its potential to rebuild soil structure particularly improving its ability to hold water and resist the effects of flooding. This paper presents novel research in which the use of Fe-WTR and Fe-WTR/compost [1:1] co-amendment has shown to be beneficial for a soil’s water retention, permeability, volume change, and strength properties. Application rates of WTR were 10 and 30 % by dry mass. Compared to the control soil, co-amended samples have 5.7 times the hydraulic conductivity (570 % improvement), 54 % higher shear strength and 25 % greater saturated water content. Single WTR amendment had 26 times the saturated hydraulic conductivity (2600 % improvement), 129 % higher shear strength and 13.7 % greater saturated water content. Data indicates that WTR can be added as a single amendment to significantly improve soil physical characteristics where shear strength and hydraulic conductivity are the most important factors in application. Although the co-application of Fe-WTR with compost provides a lesser improvement in shear strength and hydraulic conductivity compared to single WTR amendment, the co-amendment has the best water retention properties and provides supplementary organic content, which is beneficial for environmental applications where the soil health (i.e. ability to sustain ecosystem functions and support plants) is critical. We develop the term ‘flood holding capacity’ to holistically describe the physical ecosystem services that soil delivers, which incorporates not only the gravimetric water content but the extra water storage potential due to increases in volume that occur in organic rich soils, the transmissivity of the soil (hydraulic conductivity) and the shear strength of a soil, which determines how well a soil will resist the erosive forces of water movement.

Heather С. Kerr et al.

Status: open (until 16 Oct 2021)

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Heather С. Kerr et al.

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Summary Data FHC Heather Kerr

Heather С. Kerr et al.


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Short summary
Adding an organo-mineral waste product from clean water treatment (WTR) is beneficial for a soil’s water retention, permeability, and strength properties. WTR added on its own significantly improves the shear strength and saturated hydraulic conductivity of soil. The co-application of WTR with compost provides the same benefits, whilst also improving soil’s water retention properties, which is beneficial for environmental applications where the soil health is critical.