State officials huddle up to discuss strategies for lowering nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen in wastewater effluent discharge

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From the Colorado News Agency (Debi Brazzale) via The Sterling Journal Advocate:

Steve Gunderson, director of the state’s Water Quality Control Division, told the legislative Water Resources Review Committee the potential magnitude of the problem. “Nutrients are more toxic than plutonium,” said Gunderson.

The committee took the testimony at a hearing Wednesday [September 12] in accordance with House Joint Resolution 11-1025. The resolution outlines criteria to be studied by the panel in anticipation of rules and regulations to be proposed in March by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission regarding the presence of surplus nutrients.

When combined, nitrogen and phosphorus fuel the production of algae, which is essential for plant and animal health — but too much of which can contaminate waterways, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An excess of algae upsets the ecological balance for other life forms and requires urgent action, the federal environmental agency maintains. The EPA says the proliferation of such contaminants is a growing concern in the United States, and EPA rulings have encouraged states to adopt measureable standards and to develop mitigation strategies to reduce nutrients.

Gaining ground in controlling nutrients will require mitigation efforts at wastewater-treatment plants, state officials say. One approach involves what’s called Biological Nutrient Removal, or BNR, using naturally occurring micro-organisms to remove the nutrients. BNR, however, cannot remove the nutrients to EPA-recommended levels, according to Gunderson…

[State Representative Jerry Sonnenberg] countered that adopting quantifiable standards might disproportionately affect rural communities where agriculture and the use of fertilizers — containing nitrogen — are integral to their livelihood. “Agriculture uses less fertilizer per acre than most homes do on lawns,” said Sonnenberg. “Do we really want to go down this road and force agriculture to find different ways to grow food that everyone depends on?” Sonnenberg asserts that the nutrients-in-water conversation has been around for years — and that the jury is still out on both the impacts and causes of nutrient proliferation.

“Now they’re talking numbers, and it will be impossible to meet those numbers,” Sonnenberg said. “Let’s not handcuff ourselves with rules and regulations that cannot be met.”

More wastewater coverage here.

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