Monday, May 22nd, 2017
Officials eye technology
Product aims to reduce phosphorous
By William Kincaid
CELINA - Local officials may test new technology designed to reduce the scourge of phosphorus in waterways.
Mercer County commissioners recently voiced support for two proposed pilot tests as long as overseers obtain all necessary Ohio Environmental Protection Agency permits.
Ag Solutions Coordinator Theresa Dirksen updated commissioners about the proposals. She was hired just more than a year ago by commissioners to search for affordable manure-management methods to help area farmers reduce nutrient runoff blamed for causing toxic algal blooms in Grand Lake.
An official affiliated with Great Lakes Biosystems of Wisconsin contacted Dirksen recently about pilot testing a new enzyme product in a local creek to reduce phosphorous, she said.
"What they're proposing to do is place what he calls a bacteria block - it's like a tote, is how he described it - where they would constantly feed their enzyme products into these totes and they have some aeration in between," Dirksen explained to commissioners.
The officials believe the process could reduce phosphorous in the stream by 50 percent.
"We're talking total phosphorous and dissolved reactive phosphorous," she said.
An ideal location for such a test is the county-owned Montezuma Club Island wastewater treatment plant near Beaver Creek, Dirksen said. The official indicated he would need a stretch of creek 20 feet wide and 120 feet long for the test.
A special OEPA permit would be required before the test, she said. The official has said he intends to pay for all costs associated with the test.
"They've got approvals from Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for a lot of their products," Dirksen said. "But they're trying to get into Ohio."
The official boasted that if the test reveals his product works as intended, "then there's your fix for Lake Erie," Dirksen said.
Though she's a bit skeptical of the bold claims, Dirksen said the county wouldn't need to spend any money and the test is worth a shot to gather more data.
"If we're not out anything, I just figure, might as well try it," she said.
Commissioner Rick Muhlenkamp said as long as the agent used in the test isn't harmful, he supports the idea.
Dirksen reassured him that it's a natural product approved by the MDEQ. Commissioner Jerry Laffin also pointed out that OEPA approval in the form of a special permit is required before the test can take place.
Depending upon when a permit is issued, the official would like to begin the 60- to 90-day test this summer.
Muhlenkamp also said most studies have shown that the largest phosphorous loading occurs during high water flow.
"It would have been great if he'd been here two weeks ago (during the heavy rains), then we would have had a true test," Muhlenkamp said.
Dirksen also discussed a second pilot test that officials from another entity want to try this summer on both swine and dairy manure at a local farm.
Renewable Nutrients of North Carolina personnel commercialized a quick-wash nutrient removal technology developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are looking to test their product.
"They have no commercial installations anywhere, but they have a huge pilot trailer and they're trying to market this process," she said.
The process is unique and data-backed, according to Dirksen.
"They're taking the manure. They're adding sulfuric acid and dropping the pH. So what they do is allow us to take the solids out, no phosphorus in the solids," she said. "The phosphorous at that point, when you add the acid, goes into the water portion of the manure."
Solids are then removed with a dewatering machine, the pH level is restored and calcium phosphate is precipitated out.
"So then you have this nice granular, dry-type calcium phosphate they say is highly marketable and can be used as a substitution for triple super phosphate or be fed back to the animals as their calcium phosphate supplement in their diets," she said.
This pilot test could carry a cost of as much as $15,000, so Dirksen is reaching out to a local ag business for a possible contribution. Lake Improvement Association officials also have indicated they may contribute, she said.
Though she believes the technology has great potential, operational costs must be affordable for farmers to adopt it, Dirksen said.
"If they're going to be way out there, there's no point in doing it, and they've said they can keep their costs low enough to make it economical for the farmer," she said. "But I think the biggest thing is the potential marketability of the end product here."
A true market has not been found for the end product created by technologies pitched in the past, she noted.
"I've also told them what we need here is a mobile system where we can go farm to farm, and they've built their models off of what I've told them," Dirksen revealed. "They've been very good to work with, very responsive and they seem to listen well."
Hopefully the pilot test provides real-time, real-world data showing a 70-75 percent removal of phosphorous in the final product, she said.
Phosphorus-fed toxic blue-green algal blooms have resulted in state-issued water advisories on Grand Lake every year since 2009 and millions of dollars in lost tourism on the 13,500-acre lake. On Jan. 18, 2011, the state designated the local watershed distressed after humans and animals in 2010 were sickened by blue-green algae in the lake. This triggered new rules for watershed farmers, including mandatory nutrient-management plans involving soil tests and restricting manure application.
Nutrient runoff comes from many sources, but in the Grand Lake Watershed, studies show it's mostly from farmland in the 58,000-acre, livestock-heavy watershed. Phosphorus found in manure is the algae's favorite food source. The toxins can harm the liver and cause gastrointestinal symptoms and rashes and can sicken people and kill small animals.