Retention time of treated water in a horizontal subsurface flow constructed wetland was determined in the non-vegetative period using fluorescein and deuterium oxide. Fluorescein served as one of the most frequent tracers detectable at extremely low concentrations by fluorimetry; however, deuterated water (concentrations of deuterium measured by IRMS and expressed as δ (‰) against VSMOW) was used to precisely simulate the treated water flow movement. Tracer retention time (TRT) of fluorescein was 194 h while deuterated water TRT was 192 h. TRT and nominal hydraulic retention time (nHRT, 190 h) were nearly exactly equal. The tracer behavior of deuterated water was almost ideal. On the other hand, the fluorescein movement through the system was slightly influenced by the interaction with the vegetation bed (sorption causing the tailing of tracer-response curves). Nevertheless, both tracers can be successfully used and provide similar results. Retention time is a very important characteristic of a constructed wetland. It is closely connected with the efficiency of the contaminant removal from treated water. It has to be determined correctly when wetland operation parameters are optimized. The choice of the suitable and reliable tracer is always necessary. Fluorescein takes preference with respect to its simple and inexpensive determination.
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