Preventing Fall Lagoon Odor Caused by Seasonal Turnover

fall lagoon odorOctober is here—time for football, apple cider, falling leaves, and seasonal lagoon turnover. Although less extreme than the spring transition, autumn’s cooler temperatures cause destratification and may trigger lagoon turnover and corresponding odors. In this short article, we’ll talk about the causes of fall lagoon odor and how to prevent it.

What Is Seasonal Lagoon Turnover?

An improperly mixed wastewater lagoon will settle into layers during summer, with denser, cooler water at the bottom and warmer water at the top, which is known as thermal stratification.

This thermal stratification can lead to lagoon short-circuiting, where influent, taking the path of least resistance, rides along the warmer top layer of the water, and flows, virtually untreated, out with the effluent. Read our article, Lagoon Hydraulics: Diagnosing and Preventing Short-Circuiting, for ways to identify and correct this common lagoon treatment disruptor.

fall lagoon odorIn the fall, the ambient air temperature cools the top layer of water, creating “thermal instability.” Cold autumn winds accelerate the process. As the layers approach a uniform temperature, they begin to mix and destratify: the now-cooler surface water sinks down, displacing the warmer water at the bottom and dislodging the accumulated, septic solids. The lagoon is said to “turn over”—the top layer of water sinks to the bottom and the sludge can rise to the top, causing floating sludge mats and noxious odors.

In addition, the algae blooms of summer have started to die and sink to the bottom, where they release back into the water column the nutrients they have taken up. Lagoons usually do a fair job of removing ammonia in the summer, but nitrifying bacteria don’t like cold weather. If your lagoon has an ammonia limit, Triplepoint’s NitrOx® Process can upgrade your existing lagoon system to remove ammonia year round.

Problems Caused by Seasonal Lagoon Turnover

  1. Floating sludge: As the colder water sinks to the bottom of the lagoon, it dislodges the solids settled at the bottom, which have been quietly anaerobically digesting. The anaerobic digestion process releases gas as a byproduct, which becomes entrained in the sludge. Once dislodged, the gas trapped in the sludge causes it to rise from the bottom of the lagoon and float. For more about sludge, read Causes and Effects of Wastewater Lagoon Sludge Explained.
  2. Intense Odors: With the rising gas byproduct of anaerobic digestion (most notably H2S—a malodorous sulfur), unpleasant lagoon odors are released into the atmosphere all at once. These odors, coupled with those of the floating sludge mat, are strong during lagoon turnover. If picked up by the wind, these odors will garner fervent complaints (from both neighbors and staff).
  3. Lagoon Treatment Suffers: Lagoon turnover can be a sign that your lagoon is septic. In other words, it can be an indication that your lagoon contains a lower DO concentration, and is breaking down nutrients via anaerobic digestion—a very slow and smelly process. Expect a spike in effluent BOD, TSS, and other treatment parameters at some point in the near future if corrective action is not taken.

Dealing with Fall Lagoon Odors

In an article in the Kansas Lifeline, Kansas Rural Water Association Consultant Jeff Lamfers offers suggestions on how to deal with lagoon odors due to seasonal turnover. He recommends recirculating some of the higher quality effluent back to the affected cell to improve dissolved oxygen levels. Sodium nitrate can be applied, either to the surface, by means of a sprayer; or dragged through the lagoon in a mesh bag attached to a boat. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Stabilization Pond Systems Manual recommends adding 100 pounds of sodium nitrate per acre on the first day, and 50 pound per acre per day after that, if odors persist.

Lagoon odors that persist for more than a week or so can’t be blamed on lagoon turnover—it’s likely organic overloading. Read Seven Signs of an Overloaded Lagoon to learn how to diagnose and correct it.

How to Prevent Seasonal Lagoon Turnover and Odor

To prevent lagoon turnover in spring and fall, you need to combat the causes of the problem itself:

  1. Increase circulation to prevent stratification: By horizontally circulating the water, the lagoon layers will never be able to fully stratify. With both a homogeneous lagoon water temperature and environment, no fall lagoon turnover will occur.
  2. Increase dissolved oxygen levels to combat low DO. One of the easiest ways to do this is to add aeration to your lagoon. By maintaining an aerobic environment you will limit the production of noxious H2S gases.
  3. Increase mixing to prevent sludge buildup on the bottom. Increasing circulation and adding DO is all well and good, but the best way to prevent floating sludge and fall lagoon odor is to limit the accumulation of sludge in the first place. Proper lagoon mixing puts sludge up into the water column where it can break down aerobically and odor-free.

MARS Aeration Provides Efficient Oxygen Transfer and Mixing


Sufficient aeration and mixing will correct or prevent virtually every cause of lagoon odor. Triplepoint’s MARS Lagoon Aeration unit provides both aeration and mixing, combining the mixing advantages of lagoon coarse bubble diffusers with the efficiency of fine bubble diffusers in a high flexibility, low maintenance, portable unit. For more information, download our MARS Aeration Literature or request a free quote. We will be happy to help you with your lagoon aeration project.

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