Evapotranspiration from subsurface horizontal flow wetlands planted with Phragmites australis in sub-tropical Australia

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Headley, TR, Davison, L, Huett, DO & Muller, R 2012, 'Evapotranspiration from subsurface horizontal flow wetlands planted with Phragmites australis in sub-tropical Australia', Water Research, vol. 46, no. 2, pp. 345-354.

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The balance between evapotranspiration (ET) loss and rainfall ingress in treatment wetlands (TWs) can affect their suitability for certain applications. The aim of this paper was to investigate the water balance and seasonal dynamics in ET of subsurface horizontal flow (HF) TWs in a sub-tropical climate. Monthly water balances were compiled for four pilot-scale HF TWs receiving horticultural runoff over a two year period (Sep. 1999–Aug. 2001) on the sub-tropical east-coast of Australia. The mean annual wetland ET rate increased from 7.0 mm/day in the first year to 10.6 mm/day in the second, in response to the development of the reed (Phragmites australis) population. Consequently, the annual crop coefficients (ratio of wetland ET to pan evaporation) increased from 1.9 in the first year to 2.6 in the second. The mean monthly ET rates were generally greater and more variable than the Class-A pan evaporation rates, indicating that transpiration is an important contributor to ET in HF TWs. Evapotranspiration rates were generally highest in the summer and autumn months, and corresponded with the times of peak standing biomass of P. australis. It is likely that ET from the relatively small 1 m wide by 4 m long HF TWs was enhanced by advection through so-called “clothesline” and “oasis” effects, which contributed to the high crop coefficients. For the second year, when the reed population was well established, the annual net loss to the atmosphere (taking into account rainfall inputs) accounted for 6.1–9.6 % of the influent hydraulic load, which is considered negligible. However, the net loss is likely to be higher in arid regions with lower rainfall. The Water Use Efficiency (WUE) of the wetlands in the second year of operation was 1.3 g of above-ground biomass produced per kilogram of water consumed, which is low compared to agricultural crops. It is proposed that system level WUE provides a useful metric for selecting wetland plant species and TW design alternatives to use in arid regions where excessive water loss from constructed wetlands can be problematic. Further research is needed to accrue long-term HF TW water balance data especially in arid climatic zones.