Modelling of the water balance and nutrient dynamics of Mhlanga Estuary.
Lawrie, Robynne Angela.
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Waste water discharge into a temporary open/closed estuary (TOCE) system introduces two main concerns namely (1) the effects on the water balance of the system (quantity) and (2) the effects on the nutrient dynamics (water quality). Changes to mouth breaching patterns can severely impact the hydrological and ecological functioning of TOCEs, while excessive nutrient loading can lead to eutrophic conditions and algal blooms. Algal blooms occur when residence times during closed mouth conditions exceed the time scale for growth of the microalgal community. The aim of this study was to formulate a model in order to predict eutrophication events using the Mhlanga Estuary as a case study. The Mhlanga Estuary is situated approximately 19 km northeast of Durban and has a small catchment «100km2 ). The Phoenix and Mhlanga waste water treatment works (WWTW) collectively discharge approximately 20MI of treated effluent into the Mhlanga River per day. A simple daily-time-step water balance model was selected to model the hydrodynamics of the system. The model included various inputs and outputs of the system, residence time, storage, breaching water levels and time for mouth closure to occur. The result of the water balance model was a daily prediction of the mouth state and volume, and an indication of the breaching frequency. Observed mouth state data and measured water levels were used to test the model. In order to predict eutrophication events and trends at the Mhlanga Estuary, it was required that the conditions at which this would occur be investigated. This included the collection of samples (physico-chemical and chlorophyll-a) on a weekly basis for three months, a period that included three breaching events. Due to the complexity required in developing a nutrient dynamics model, a simpler approach was selected. The grey water index (GWI) was formulated in order to account for nutrient loadings into the estuary. WWTW discharge data were provided by eThekwini Municipality Water and Sanitation (EMWS). Initial results showed that under ideal conditions, an algal bloom would occur approximately fourteen days following re-closure of the Mhlanga mouth. The eutrophication index (E j ) was then formulated to account for both residence time and nutrient concentrations. The Ej at which eutrophic conditions can be expected was found to be about 50 %. It is important to note that this value for Ej is expected to be site specific and only accounts for the Mhlanga Estuary, but the concept can be generalized to other similar estuaries. Water levels simulated using the water balance model and observed mouth state data produced similar levels to those measured by DWAF. Following simulations of different flow scenarios (75% and 150% increase in WWTW discharges), it was found that an increase in capping flows resulted in more frequent breaching events and longer open mouth conditions. The risk of eutrophic conditions also increased with an increase in WWTW capping flows. Algal blooms are predicted to continue despite more frequent breaching events induced by an increase in capping flows.