Charlie Lalonde with the The Thames River Phosphorus Reduction Collaborative, talks to a group during a demonstration at Roesch Farm in Kent Bridge on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. (Photo by Allanah Wills)

Group testing innovative phosphorus reduction technologies

A farm in Chatham-Kent has been chosen as a demonstration site for a pilot project that helps intercept phosphorous before it enters water systems in the area through agricultural runoff.

A public demonstration was held Wednesday at one of the Roesch Farm in Kent Bridge, which has a tank installed that captures water, then flows it through a filter-like material that absorbs phosphorus.

The project is part of the Thames River Phosphorous Reduction Collaborative that has been created to test out different technologies that aim to help prevent toxic algae from growing in local rivers and lakes and ultimately Lake Erie. The collaborative is a joint project of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, funded through Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Great Lakes Protection Initiative and the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

Phosphorus is a naturally occurring mineral that isn’t harmful in small levels. However, urbanization and agriculture can lead to elevated levels of phosphorous in water systems, creating toxic algal blooms that can contaminate drinking water. Runoff from agricultural fields that collect in municipal drains has become a major source of that excess phosphorus.

To help reduce runoff, the collaborative has set up multiple projects across Southwestern Ontario, all of which are testing out different technologies in hopes of eventually creating a viable solution.

“We have seven different projects from Tilbury to Woodstock and north of London. We’re trying different things in different places and eventually, we want to say ‘well, we’ve got three or four solutions that we can extend elsewhere in the landscape,'” explained Charlie Lalonde, project manager. “It doesn’t have to have long contact with the material as long as the water passes through it, the material will obtain phosphorous.”

A group of people from the drainage industry, student researchers, farmers, and conservation authority officials were on hand at the demonstration. Lalonde said the Thames River Phosphorous Reduction Collaborative has been working closely with these kinds of groups to get more input and share ideas. Since the tank was installed at the site in late 2017, 133 water samples have been collected.

“Because it’s experimental, we are testing, measuring water flow and everything, so that we can then analyze and with certainty, make claims on whether things work or not,” Lalonde said.

Another site in the municipality chosen to be part of the research is Chatham-Kent Boudreau Pump Station. The technology tested there includes using electrical currents to create iron ions that help assist in the removal of phosphorus from water.

The project will be underway for the next three years and according to Lalonde, the group will make their findings public as they go along.