Nutrients lead to cleaner environment for Mississippi River Basin and Gulf of Mexico
The world's largest nutrient recovery facility is open for business, working to clean the country's waterways, save taxpayers money, provide for farmers and protect the entire planet facing a scarcity of phosphorus and harmful algae blooms.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) in partnership with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies and Black & Veatch officially opened a nutrient recovery facility May 25 at the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant (WRP) in Cicero.
"The MWRD is dedicated to becoming the utility of the future," said Mariyana Spyropoulos, MWRD president. "Ostara's technology is a solution to managing the overabundance of phosphorus while creating a revenue stream through the sale of the fertilizer. This is a win for the environment and a win for Cook County taxpayers."
MWRD's new nutrient recovery facility is an example of how progressive technology can be implemented to transform a wastewater treatment facility into a resource recovery center, providing significant environmental benefits to the Chicago Area Waterway System and downstream to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
Through Ostara's technology, phosphorus and nitrogen will be recovered to create a high value fertilizer, marketed as Crystal Green. The process is both economically and environmentally viable. The new facility has a production capacity of 10,000 tons of Crystal Green per year. As part of the commercial sale of Crystal Green, the MWRD will receive revenue for every ton of fertilizer it produces. By removing phosphorus from the water and returning it to farmers and other agricultural producers, this facility represents a significant shift in the wastewater industry from treatment to recovery for reuse.
"To see the largest wastewater treatment facility in the world implement Ostara's system is proof to municipalities there exists a viable and cost-effective solution to address their nutrient challenges," said attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an Ostara board member and environmental advocate. "Having a solution to solve plant issues while addressing more global challenges affecting the nation's watersheds, without economic burden, is progress for the environment, ratepayers and future generations."
Nutrient pollution is among the biggest environmental problems of the 21st century. Excess phosphorus in waterways can cause algae to grow and bloom, creating toxic conditions that kill aquatic life and severely limit recreational enjoyment of lakes and rivers. Phosphorus is considered a major contributor to nutrient pollution, entering bodies of water from a number of sources including urban water treatment facilities. The MWRD's nutrient recovery facility will reduce its nutrient effluent load to the Chicago/Calumet river system, upstream of the Mississippi river basin and as a result, will reduce its impact on hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
While excess phosphorous discharged to waterways can contribute to water quality problems, it is also a non-renewable resource, which is essential for life. It is estimated that there are fewer than 50 years of phosphorus reserves remaining worldwide.
Closer to home, however, this renewed water stewardship will have an instant impact on area waterways, especially in Chicago, where river walks are being constructed and recreational use of the Chicago River and area waterways has increased dramatically in recent years. Cleaned water from Stickney WRP is released into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal southwest of the Chicago River so taking proactive steps in protecting the local watershed continues to be a priority for the MWRD.
"Thanks to critical partnerships like this, the Chicago region is a global leader in driving water technology and innovation forward," said Steve Koch, Chicago Deputy Mayor. "This new facility will keep that progress going while benefiting Chicago's environment and residents."
Designed to treat up to 1.44 billion gal of water each day and serving a population equivalent to 2.3 million residents including the central part of Chicago and 46 suburban communities, the Stickney WRP discharges into the Chicago and Sanitary and Ship Canal, making it the largest water reclamation plant in the world. MWRD's mission is to protect the water supply source, improve the quality of area waterways and protect businesses and homes from flood damages while sustainably managing this vital resource for the Greater Chicago area.
Facing more stringent regulatory limits affecting effluent discharge permits in addition to a wastewater system that was experiencing an accumulation of mineral in struvite form, MWRD sought a closed-loop and cost-effective phosphorus management strategy. As a global leader in nutrient recovery, Ostara provided MWRD a solution to its challenges.
"For Ostara, partnering with MWRD is a milestone in successfully scaling up our technology to serve the largest wastewater treatment facility in the world, providing a cost effective and environmentally progressive solution to support their clean water mandate," said Phillip Abrary, Ostara president and CEO. "We are proud to be part of a solution that will ultimately help protect the Mississippi River Basin and provide revenue to the District from the sale of the high value phosphorus fertilizer recovered to benefit ratepayers."