Projects identified to address Lake Erie algae

Funding awarded for testing phosphorus reduction technology

Five projects have been selected to develop and test technologies that remove phosphorus from agriculture runoff.

Why it matters: Finding ways to reduce phosphorus runoff will benefit all waterway users and the environment.

The Thames River Phosphorus Reduction Collaborative (PRC) was formed to find solutions to reduce harmful algal blooms in the Thames River and Lake Erie. Phosphorus is one of the major contributors to the growth of the algal blooms.

The PRC represents agricultural producers, municipalities, conservation authorities, First Nations, agri-businesses, the drainage sector, and environmental non-governmental organizations.

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“We are encouraged by the progress we’re making and grateful for the support we’ve received as we work toward finding practical, affordable options to better protect the quality of water in our streams, rivers and lakes,” said Mark Reusser, co-chair of the collaborative and vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).

A total of $400,000 has been awarded to projects that will gauge how efficiently each technology works in removing phosphorus from water that is leaving agricultural fields and drains.

More than $130,000 in cash and in-kind contributions are being invested in the project from the OFA, GLSLCI, local OFA chapters, the cities of London and Chatham-Kent, Bluewater Pipe and Ontario Pork.

Testing sites will be set up in several agricultural fields in the Thames River watershed, the Lake Erie Basin and in two municipal pumping stations near Chatham and London. The testing will continue through the next three years.

Agricultural researchers and farmers have made great strides in identifying better practices to retain phosphorus on the land, including applying fertilizer more efficiently, improving soil health and reducing erosion, said a statement from the PRC.

These best practices are the first line of defence in reducing phosphorus loss into waterways. However, as big storms and snow melts become more intense and more frequent, some phosphorus will be washed away. Scientific studies have shown that phosphorus loss spikes during the winter and early spring.

“Our government is fully committed to supporting initiatives which improve the environmental health of our lakes and rivers, including the Lake Erie Basin,” said Lawrence MacAulay, federal minister of agriculture. “These products show ingenuity and are a step forward in finding innovative solutions to help agriculture be more sustainable and contribute to the health of our waterways.”

“Our government understands the importance of protecting our waters, as do farmers and other stewards of the land, such as those behind these innovative local projects to benefit the Lake Erie watershed,” said Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of agriculture. “This is one of several promising water quality improvement efforts our government is supporting through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.”

“The mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative look forward to working with all partners on the installation and testing of these innovative technologies. These measures hold great potential to help reduce phosphorus loads into our rivers and lakes, and so help ensure a healthy Lake Erie, for this and future generations,” said John Dickert, president and chief executive officer of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI).

The Canada Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan aims to contribute to the commitment made in 2016 between Canada and the United States to a 40 per cent reduction in the total and soluble reactive phosphorus entering Lake Erie from the Thames in spring.

The Thames River PRC is administered by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative and is funded through Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Great Lakes Protection Initiative and through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of the Partnership in Ontario.

What are some of the technologies being tested?

Removable phosphorus filter

The Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) is working with Bluewater Pipe and McCutcheon Farm Drainage Ltd. on farms in the London area. They’ll be testing an on-farm sorbtive media phosphorus filter with a removable cartridge connected to field tiles.

Capturing phosphorus for reuse

ESSRE Consulting Inc. is a Pennsylvania-based technology development and engineering design services firm. The company will be working with the Thames River PRC to test novel nano-enhanced adsorptive media that remove and recover dissolved phosphorus (SRP, or soluble reactive phosphorus), thereby enabling the safe, sustainable reuse of the captured phosphorus. The media are configurable to capture SRP that runs into field drainage tiles, that exits through a farm edge-of-field drainage pipe into a specially designed media box, or that, when properly filtered, after it collects in municipal drainage systems.

Putting socks over drainage ends — but what filters?

Silt Sock Environmental manufactures the fabric filter ‘Silt Sock’ at its Ailsa Craig, Ont., facility. The company makes various products for sediment control and is working with ESSRE Consulting to demonstrate the use of specialized filter sock products to adsorb soluble phosphorus from farm run-off water. Their filter can be fitted around drainage inlets at the field surface or with a basket inside the inlet. Silt Sock Environmental will be working on installations at various PRC sites.

Treating P at a municipal drain pump station

Waterloo Biofilter Systems Inc. is an Ontario company that develops, designs, manufactures and maintains advanced onsite wastewater treatment systems. The company will install its Waterloo EC-P technology at a municipal drain — pump station. The technology uses low-energy electrochemistry to produce iron ions which react with phosphate ions in the water, creating insoluble iron-phosphorus minerals that can be filtered out. This process can also be used to capture and reuse phosphorus as a fertilizing soil amendment.

Binding phosphorus for removal

Muddy River Technologies is a Delta, British Columbia, company that develops water and wastewater treatment systems. The company will use its patent-pending Amprey process to remove dissolved phosphorus at a municipal drainage site. The process involves using electricity to slowly dissolve lava rock with the resulting iron, magnesium, aluminum and calcium ions binding to phosphate ions in the water to form a solid material that can be removed.

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