Phosphorus is not only disappearing from the planet, but what remains is devastating the Gulf of Mexico and the nation’s waterways where harmful algae blooms threaten water quality. To combat these issues, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) has come up with a solution that will protect the waterways by removing phosphorus from the water, while also returning that phosphorus to its proper home in the hands of farmers and other agricultural producers.
Thanks in part to the support of Vice President Barbara McGowan and the MWRD Board of Commissioners, MWRD scientists and engineers partnered with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies and Black & Veatch to create the world’s largest nutrient recovery facility at the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant (WRP) in Cicero.
“This facility represents a significant shift in the wastewater industry from treatment to recovery for reuse,” said Vice President McGowan. “This progressive technology will not only save critical dollars for Cook County taxpayers, but it will make a lasting impact on the environment and protect our waterways in the Chicago region, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.”
Through Ostara’s technology, phosphorus and nitrogen will be recovered to create a high value fertilizer, marketed as Crystal Green. The new facility has a production capacity of 10,000 tons of Crystal Green per year. As part of the commercial sale of Crystal Green, the MWRD will receive revenue for every ton of fertilizer it produces. At this production capacity, the MWRD has the potential to create enough fertilizer to grow 1 billion pounds of potatoes or 250 million bags of potato chips.
Nutrient pollution is among the biggest environmental problems of the 21st century. Excess phosphorus in waterways can cause algae to grow and bloom, creating toxic conditions that destroy aquatic life and severely limit recreational enjoyment of lakes and rivers. Phosphorus is considered a major contributor to nutrient pollution, entering bodies of water from a number of sources including urban water treatment facilities. The MWRD’s nutrient recovery facility will greatly reduce its nutrient effluent load to the Chicago/Calumet river system, upstream of the Mississippi river basin and as a result, will reduce its impact on hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
While excess phosphorous discharged to waterways can contribute to water quality problems, it is also a non-renewable resource which is essential for life. It is estimated that there are fewer than 50 years of phosphorus reserves remaining worldwide. Most phosphorus is sourced from rock mines and must be transported considerable distances.
Closer to home, however, this renewed water stewardship will pay an instant impact on area waterways, especially in Chicago, where river walks are being constructed and recreational use of the Chicago River and area waterways has increased dramatically in recent years. Cleaned water from Stickney WRP is released into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal southwest of the Chicago River so taking proactive steps in protecting the local watershed continues to be a priority for the MWRD.
Designed to treat up to 1.44 billion gallons of water each day and serving a population equivalent to 2.3 million residents including the central part of Chicago and 46 suburban communities, the Stickney WRP discharges into the Chicago and Sanitary and Ship Canal, making it the largest water reclamation plant in the world. MWRD’s mission is to protect the water supply source, improve the quality of area waterways, and protect businesses and homes from flood damages while sustainably managing this vital resource for the Greater Chicago area.