Regulate farming industries with regard to their use of fertilizers and their responsibilities towards the natural environment.
What is nitrate?
Europe is the continent that has suffered most from eutrophication, and increasing efforts are being made to restore European water bodies damaged by nutrient enrichment. If the ultimate goal is to restore sites where nature conservation interest has been damaged by eutrophication, techniques are required for reducing external loadings of nutrients into ecosystems.
Diversion of effluent
In some circumstances it may be possible to divert sewage effluent away from a water body in order to reduce nutrient loads. Diversion of effluent should be considered only if the effluent to be diverted does not constitute a major part of the water supply for the water body. Otherwise, residence times of water and nutrients will be increased and the benefits of diversion may be counteracted.
For example, this was achieved at Lake Washington, near Seattle, USA, which is close to the sea. Lake Washington is surrounded by Seattle and its suburbs, and in 1955 a cyanobacterium, Oscitilloria rubescens, became dominant in the lake.
The lake was receiving sewage effluent from about 70 000 people and this input represented about 56% of the total phosphorus load to the lake. The sewerage system was redesigned to divert effluent away from the lake, for discharge instead into the nearby sea inlet of Puget Sound. This quickly improved the quality of water in the lake.
It has been estimated that up to 45% of total phosphorus loadings to freshwater in the UK comes from sewage treatment works. This input can be reduced significantly (by 90% or more) by carrying out phosphate stripping. The effluent is run into a tank and dosed with a product known as a precipitant, which combines with phosphate in solution to create a solid, which then settles out and can be removed.
The chemicals required as precipitants constitute the major cost, rather than installations or infrastructure, and the process is very effective: up to 95% of the phosphate can be removed easily, and it is possible to remove more. Despite its effectiveness, however, phosphate stripping is not yet used universally in sewage treatment.
The interface between aquatic ecosystems and the land is a zone that has a profound influence on the movement of water and water-borne contaminants. Vegetation adjacent to streams and water bodies can help to safeguard water quality, particularly in agricultural landscapes.
Buffer strips are used to reduce the amounts of nutrients reaching water bodies from runoff or leaching. They usually take the form of vegetated strips of land alongside water bodies: grassland, woodland and wetlands have been shown to be effective in different situations. The vegetation often performs a dual role, by reducing nutrient inputs to aquatic habitat and also providing wildlife habitat.
Wetlands can be used in a similar way to buffer strips as a pollution control mechanism. They often present a relatively cost-effective and practical option for treatment, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas where large waste-water treatment plants are not acceptable.
The treatment process involves passing the drain water through basins and ponds, designed to have specific retention times. The pumped water first passes through sedimentation basins to allow suspended solids to settle out (primary treatment), followed by a number of wetland ponds (secondary treatment). The ponds are cultivated with different types of aquatic plants, such as emergent macrophytes (e.g. Phragmites) with well-developed aerenchyma systems to oxygenate the rhizosphere, allowing the oxidation of ammonium ions to nitrate. Subsequent denitrification removes the nitrogen to the atmosphere.
An important aspect of efforts to reduce nutrient inputs to water bodies is the modification of domestic behaviour. For example, public campaigns in Australia have encouraged people to:
• wash vehicles on porous surfaces away from drains or gutters
• reduce use of fertilizers on lawns and gardens
• compost garden and food waste
• use zero- or low-phosphorus detergents
• wash only full loads in washing machines
• collect and bury pet faeces.
These campaigns have combined local lobbying with national strategies to tackle pollution from other sources.