The city of Burlington has teamed with an engineering firm on a pilot project exploring a new way to reduce phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain.
It’s not very noticeable and you may not even pay attention to it as you pass by. “It’s a neat little floating oasis. The disks are hanging off the sides of it. An then there’s an aeration, I don’t know if you can see that aeration, just sort of spinning around.”
The small floating island is attached to the shore side of the Burlington Boat House. Leafy plants and flowers bloom on what looks like a hydroponic square of moss. Two people pass by curious about it and Erin Desautels, who is the principal at Vermont Small Business Accelerators, offers an explanation. “There’s an aeration device in there and then there’s this phosphorus media that’s hanging off the sides. And what happens is the phosphorus clings to the media. And then they can take it off. They dip it into this bath of stuff and it all falls off. So that means like less blue-green algae (That’s cool.) It’s a pilot project that the city is allowing us to do. (It’s pretty awesome.)”
Tethered to the floating ecosystem are clusters of media inoculated with beneficial microbes to treat the algae and remove phosphorus. EcoSolutions CEO Dave Whitney explains the techniques they are using to eliminate algae. “In the center we have a PVC column. It’s filled full of this porcelain media that we have. Phosphorus sticks to it. There are some other disks that are hanging underneath our aquatic ecosystem. And those disks have actually been inoculated with just naturally occurring bacteria. And the bacteria will out compete algae that’s blooming for the phosphorus that’s in the water. And that’s why we have the other phosphorus media that then takes and collects the phosphorus that’s in the water that’s left over.”
So far this pilot appears to be performing well and Whitney hopes for a full-scale deployment next year. “When we first put this in here it was pretty dramatic. This surface was probably 75 to 80 percent covered with algae. And within a couple of days of deploying this there was a clear and distinct ring of clear water around where you could see down to the bottom that you couldn’t see before when we started the process.”
Vermont Small Business Accelerators became involved with the project about 18 months ago. Desautels found it intriguing because of the range of potential, from eliminating algae to creating new businesses. “There are so many great directions that this could go from helping farms to mitigate their runoff, to addressing the blue green algae itself, to the harvesting of phosphorus for resale. We could potentially really do some terrific things here.”
The pilot project will remain in the water until mid-October.