Smarter Nutrient Management for Water Utilities Examined

A new study explores how better nutrient management in wastewater treatment facilities can help overcome the strain put on the water utility sector caused by urbanization and agriculture.

In the past century, population growth, urbanization and intensified agricultural practices have combined to increase strain on wastewater treatment facilities. A foremost challenge for utilities is managing nutrient levels in the water – and doing so while juggling economic and energy constraints.

The Road Toward Smarter Nutrient Management in Municipal Water Treatment, a new Charting New Waters explores opportunities for the water utility sector to continue providing clean effluent, while also examining the opportunities for recovering nitrogen and phosphorus and returning it to the agricultural cycle.

The report is the product of a meeting convened by The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, The Water Environment Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund, which brought together a group of experts to discuss how wastewater treatment can achieve more ambitious goals for the clean water it provides, while holding the line on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Each time we bring a diverse group of thinkers together, we are able to facilitate an exchange of fresh perspectives that move the conversation forward,” said Lynn Broaddus, director of the Environment Program at The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread. “When it comes to wastewater treatment, we know that our current path is not optimal. Our most recent convening took the exploration of the issue one step further and assessed prospects for not only removing nutrients from effluent, but also finding a way to reuse them.”

In order to sustainably address the discharge of nutrients into the environment, the experts were guided by the following goals maximizing the capture and reuse of waste stream nutrients; minimizing the energy used to process wastewater; minimizing the nutrients released into the environment; minimizing the alterations to the hydrologic cycle; minimizing the release of greenhouse emissions from infrastructure; and maximizing economic benefits.

The report is part of Charting New WatersJohnson Foundation at Wingspread initiative bringing together experts to examine freshwater challenges, successes, innovations and potential solutions that can bridge geographies and inform national policy.

To download the full report, please click here.

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