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While nutrient pollution can come from a number of sources, the greatest contributor to the problem is agricultural runoff.

Decentralized wastewater treatment can help farmers as they work to reduce runoff pollution

In April, the United States Environmental Protection Agency released a new policy memo, “Accelerating Nutrient Pollution Reductions in the Nation’s Waters,” that reaffirms its commitment to collaborate with federal agencies, states, tribes, and agriculture to reduce nutrient contamination in U.S. waters.

While the EPA acknowledges that nutrient pollution is one of America’s most challenging environmental issues, the agency sees an unprecedented opportunity to make quick progress by scaling up effective, novel approaches that have arisen in both the public and private sectors through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Addressing Nutrient Pollution

Nutrient pollution can come from a number of sources, including poorly maintained septic systems and inadequate wastewater treatment plants. The largest contributor to the problem, however, is agricultural runoff, which has long escaped regulation because the Clean Water Act (CWA) does not regulate nonpoint sources of pollution.

Calls to regulate nonpoint sources of pollution have increased along with the proliferation of toxic algal blooms in surface water bodies and the expansion of enormous dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

A 2020 Supreme Court decision extended the CWA’s point-source protections to groundwater, and researchers in a number of disciplines have recommended amending the CWA and mandating state regulation to address nutrient pollution. Significantly, the April memo may signal a new willingness on the part of the EPA to take a second look at the CWA in the context of nutrient pollution, saying, “EPA will also continue to evolve and implement the Clean Water Act regulatory framework to holistically address nutrient pollutions.”

Farmers have been expecting eventual regulation, but many assert they can reduce their nutrient runoff better without regulation. With the new EPA policy announcement invoking voluntary, incentive-based farm programs, the agency makes the case for aligned interests of farmers and regulators. A representative of the FDA said:

Effective nutrient management not only improves plant health and productivity, but also reduces excess nutrients in surface and ground water as well as emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The new EPA policy prioritizes nutrient pollution that affects the most vulnerable communities, which often are located in remote rural areas or on tribal lands.

Decentralized Nutrient Removal

Farmers have many methods of dealing with nutrient escape, including manure management, fine-tuning fertilizer application, and using tile drainage and vegetative buffer zones to limit runoff.

For farmers looking for ways to treat runoff once collected, Fluence offers decentralized wastewater treatment.

For example, Fluence Aspiral™ is a range of modular, containerized units well-suited to rural environments. Aspiral™ uses membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) technology for exceptionally high nutrient removal and energy efficiency. In agriculture, modular Aspiral™ plants can be strategically installed to treat runoff collected through tile drainage or ditches, and they also can fill the domestic wastewater treatment needs of small communities.

Aspiral™ produces effluent suitable for nonpotable reuse such as agricultural irrigation, exceeding even California’s strict Title 22 standards. Its energy requirement is low enough for operation on alternative energy sources like solar panels.

Fluence’s Water Management Services provide innovative financing structures to bring agriculture and underserved communities into compliance quickly with no upfront investment. Contact Fluence to discuss how MABR can address nutrient removal with unprecedented efficiency.

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