When seasick on the ocean, water will seem entirely overabundant. But not all water is equal and while seawater is great for fish, without expensive desalination, it doesn’t provide any of the drinking, cleaning or irrigation uses for which people need fresh water. That type of water – the kind that can be easily and safely consumed – is in relatively short supply.
Only a small fraction of the earth’s water resources is potable and the twin pressures of climate change and global population growth are squeezing our clean water supplies tighter than ever before. The developing world has been hardest hit, but North America is increasingly facing the same problem of maintaining both the quantity and quality of our precious clean water supplies.
Wastewater is a significant concern for water health, as chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus – frequently used in agriculture – increasingly make their way into wastewater treatment plants. Passing through the plant, the chemicals are discharged into vulnerable lakes and streams, upsetting precariously balanced ecosystems.
Both nitrogen and phosphorus are essential components of aquatic ecosystems, but they are problematic in high concentrations. Too much of either can cause a chain reaction which begins with runaway algae growth and leads to reduced oxygen content in the water. When algae blooms take hold, fish die and entire ecosystems can become unbalanced. In the Great Lakes, large quantities of nutrients have recently found their way into water, spurring algae blooms which threaten biodiversity, human health and the economy.
The risk is even greater where nutrient pollution makes its way into groundwater. Even low levels of nitrate and nitrite are hazardous to drink, meaning that these chemicals must be filtered out before they reach drinking water sources.
To counter the problem, wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have employed Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) systems, which separate the water from the solids and lower carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, improving effluent quality.
For WWTPs, this solution is not quite as simple as installing a BNR system and forgetting about it. BNR doesn’t work without an outside source of carbon, which isn’t usually found in incoming wastewater. Methanol, glycerol and acetic acid are commonly used as carbon sources, but their significant expense and toxicity can make BNR challenging from logistical and financial point of view.
Lystek’s LysteCarb® solution improves BNR systems by providing efficient and cost-effective, high-quality organic carbon for the water-cleaning process. Biosolids are subjected to biological nitrogen removal and enhanced biological phosphorus removal before being recycled back into the BNR system as a source of alternate carbon. The result is clean, safe effluent sent back into our waterways.
Our water is still plentiful, but it is vulnerable; climate change and a growing population mean we can’t afford to waste the resources we have. Wastewater treatment plants are on the front lines of the struggle to keep high concentrations of nutrients out of our lakes, rivers and drinking water. LysteCarb can play an important role in reducing both the high costs and chemicals that flow through BNR systems while protecting our water resources. As the effectiveness of BNR systems hinges on the availability and price of carbon, LysteCarb’s organic carbon is an important tool in the fight to preserve the health of our water resources.