Phophorus (P) is an essential element for healthy plant growth and development. It aids in root growth, plants' flower formation, and makes photosynthesis possible.
Phosphorus is a necessary element to the basic operations of animal life. It is part of biological molecules such as nucleic acids and the energy transfer molecule adenosine triphosphate or ATP. Bascially, without phosphorus the fundamental operations necessary to maintain life would not be possible.
However, there is a delicate balance between healthy levels of phosphorus and the excess that leads to toxic algal blooms, and the destruction of certain environments.
Lake Champlain is drowning in toxic blue-green algae
Levels of Phosphorus have risen steadily over the last two decades to reach unmanageable proportions
This excess threatens the stability of the $1.5 billion tourism market because of beach closing due to health risk
Fish populations in Lake Champlain have diminished because of decreased oxygen in the water caused by algal blooms
Domesticated animals have become sick and even died due to ingestion of toxic lake water during these massive blooms
Lake Champlain During Algal Blooms Healthy Water
How did this happen?
Overuse of phosphate laden products by consumers in the Lake Champlain water basin, such as:
Automatic dishwasher detergents
Fertilizers with high Phosphate content
Cleaners used on boats and automobiles
Mishandling of sewage by municipal treatment centers and spills during heavy rains
Failure, by farmers, to use best management practices (BMP)
Agricultural runoff from fertilizers applied at the wrong stage of plant growth
Untreated runoff from phosphorus-laden manure by cattle farms
Sources of Phosphorus
P is mined in FL, NC, and UT; with 75% of domestic and 25% of international phosphorus originating in FL alone
P mining impacts the local environments negatively due to the by-products of production like phosphogypsum which is radioactive and accumulates in massive amounts after the harvesting of useful phosphoric acids
How is this effecting the Lake Champlain biosphere?
Accelerated eutrophication of the lake.... by adding excess amounts of phosphorus, the deciding growth factor of algae, nutrients needed for the health of the aquaic community are being overloaded to the point of toxicity
Excess levels of phosphorus feed cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) which in shallower areas of the lake emit biotoxins, starting a chain reaction of poisoning organisms in and around the water basin
These toxins can be fatal to livestock, humans and any other creatures that ingest the water. Biotoxins from algal blooms are circulated thru the ecosystem via fish, shellfish, and other marine wildlife
A Difficult Dilema
While point source contaminants are easy to identify, nonpoint source pollutants are not.
Point source contaminants include municipal and industrial wastewater runoff, animal feedlot runoff, runoff from mines, unsewered industrial and construction sites, and untreated sewage.
Nonpoint source pollutants are runoff from agricultural irrigation, pasture and range runoff, urban runoff in unsewered areas, and leaching from septic systems, to name a few.
Residual phosphorus present in the sediment of the lake bed warms as the lake temperatures rise and is then cycled back into the waterflow, compounding the levels of excess nutrient used by cyanobacteria.
Plans for progress?
Scientists are currently investigating more effective sewage treatments, including the use of enzymes that break down excess phosphorus while it's still in the animals' systems
Local municipalities have proposed the idea of filtering storm drains in order to clean runoff before it reaches the lake
Sewage treatment plants have implemented $28 million in upgrades in phosphorus removal techologies and have prevented 23 metric tons of the mineral from entering the water supply
Ecosystem Principles of Lake Champlain
Cyanobacteria is a member of the domain Eukarya and the kingdom Protista. Their radical bloom levels are disrupting the delicate ecosystem that exist in the lake. Fish and shellfish are dying because of the algae's interspecific competition for space and nutrients. These algal blooms are creating an unbalanced affect in the community's stability.
Blooms are negating the ecosytem services of clean water and healthy fish for consumption. In Lake Champlain, the biochemical cycles have been increased. A higher level of phosphorus cycling in the form of runoff has caused the watershed Lake Champlain to become eutrophic.
What Can Be Done?
Institution of organic farming practices: using composts instead of inorganic fertilizers
Impose laws that restrict the sale of P containing detergents and fertilizers
Inform the public on practicing P-reducing habits of daily living
Green building practices: utilizing green roofs and holding ponds for residential areas to reduce runoff