Stream Hydrology Controls the Longitudinal Bioreactive Footprint of Urban-Sourced Fine Particles

Jennifer D Drummond, Susana Bernal, Warren Meredith, Rina Schumer, Eugènia Martí

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The relevance of wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents in fluvial networks is increasing as urbanization grows in catchments. Urban-sourced fine particles from WWTP effluents deposit and accumulate in the streambed sediment of receiving streams over time and can fuel respiration rates, which can thus potentially increase rates of biogeochemical reactions and CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. We aimed to provide a quantitative assessment of the influence of WWTP-sourced fine particles deposited in the streambed sediment on stream metabolic activity for 1 year in an intermittent Mediterranean stream. More nutrient-rich and metabolically active fine particle standing stocks were observed downstream of the WWTP, propagating to the end of the 820 m study reach, especially during the dry period (i.e., when the dilution capacity of the stream to WWTP inputs is <40%). Based on the longitudinal patterns of fine particle standing stocks and their metabolic activity, we estimated that the in-stream bioreactive capacity associated with these fine particles could potentially lead to substantial carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere (3.1 g C/m2/d). We show the importance of incorporating fine particle standing stocks downstream of point source inputs, particularly WWTPs in intermittent streams, into carbon budgets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9083–9091
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number12
Early online date7 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2022


  • aerobic respiration
  • carbon cycle
  • fine particle standing stocks
  • organic matter
  • stream metabolism
  • streambed
  • urban point source


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