Busting blue-green blooms

New filter sucks up key nutrient

HEATHER RIVERS Sentinel-Review It?s an algae-busting filter designed to suck up phosphorus and prevent it from leaching into our waterways and the Great Lakes. On Thursday, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) unveiled Ontario?s first farm-scale phosphorus filter at Hoenhorst Farms on the 16th Line near Bright. Craig Merkley, a conservation services specialist with the UTRCA, said the owner of the farm had approached the authority about methods of keeping runoff from his bunker silos on his dairy farm away from waterways during rain storms. ?It was a management problem,? Merkley said. ?He wanted to be proactive and do something about the silo leachate going into rivers and making its way into open water.? The filter will absorb and immobilize both dissolved and non-soluble forms of phosphorus and other contaminants, such as pathogens, viruses and bacteria. The key ingredient producing blue-green algae is phosphorus, also identified as the numberone water quality issue for Lake Erie, which the Thames River watershed ultimately makes it?s way too. Blooms of these algae were seen for the first time in Woodstock?s Pittock Reservoir in 2010 and are the current reason the area is closed to swimmers. Toxins produced by blue-green algae irritate the skin, eyes, ears and throat, and may produce hay fever-like symptoms. People who drink contaminated water are warned of headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea. ?Bunker has lots of phosphorus generating a lot of algae blooms, and it makes its way to Pittock and ultimately to the Great Lakes,? Merkley said. ?We designed a unique feature to treat phosphorus. The trench on the ground is filled with slag. It is designed to suck phosphorus out of the system.? A Phosphex filter -- developed by Dr. Will Robertson, a specialist in groundwater contamination and remediation at the University of Waterloo -- is a key component of the new farm phosphorus filter system. This is the first time a farm has used slag, a byproduct of the steel industry and donated by American Steel Canada, to help purify water supplies. Conservation services specialist Craig Merkley, at a farm near Bright on Thursday, explains how Ontario?s first farm-scale phosphous filter will work. HEATHER RIVERS/SENTINEL-REVIEW ?It?s never been done on a farm scale or field scale,? Merkley said. The filter also includes native wildflowers and grasses, such as Joe Pye weed and irises, planted in what is known as a serpentine vegetated filter strip. Phosphorus-sucking orchard grass will also be planted and regularly clipped. Merkley said the experimental part of the project would help them learn how long the slag will last, which is thought to be about 15 years. ?The lessons we learn here will be transferred to others who are interested in the project,? Merkley said. Merkley said the UTRCA is working with a budget of about $17,000. Agriculture Canada will be responsible for the future continuous monitoring of the site to ensure flow rates are performing correctly. See us for all your farm tire, service and repair needs!


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