Improving water quality in Ontario’s rivers and lakes

A contestant in an international competition helps farmers protect the environment

By Jim Algie
Better Farming

The 2018 Lake Simcoe phase of an international competition testing phosphorus removal technology led to the installation of new systems on three area farms, said Derek Davy, co-founder of Econse Water Purification Systems.

The new, electro-mechanical systems clean wash water from vegetables.

carrots in the field
    Nikolaeva Elena/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

Davy established his company in 2013 to market a proprietorial, water-treatment system for craft breweries. The Toronto-based company was among nine organizations asked to participate in the George Barley Water Prize’s Lake Simcoe tests.

Two other Canadian teams, one from the University of Waterloo and another from Muddy River Technologies of Delta, B.C., also competed. Rounding out the list of participants were American and Dutch consulting firms as well as teams from the University of Idaho, the University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Organized by the Everglades Foundation of Florida and named for an Everglades conservationist, the competition’s semi-final phase in Lake Simcoe featured a February-to-May test of phosphorus-reduction techniques in the cold-water environment of the Holland River, a Lake Simcoe tributary.

Four finalists advanced to a larger-volume, longer-term test in Oviedo, Florida. The Everglades Foundation of Florida aim to announce the winner of the $10-million grand prize by the end of 2021.

Although Econse equipment is unsuited to the competition’s large-scale final phase, the company’s involvement helped find new uses for its equipment among farmers in the Holland Marsh region, Davy said to Better Farming.

“We were really happy to be part of this boot camp,” Davy said. “We called it `American Idol for science geeks.’

“We were running the whole time. We had no downtime, which was great. We were removing 98 per cent of the phosphorus from the water and being able to recover that as an organic material that could be reapplied to the land.”

Davy described the price of his equipment as less than biological alternatives that require a great deal more space. Farmers can use Econse equipment to meet quality restrictions on wastewater discharge, he said.

He expects to double farm-based installations within a year.

“We were well received,” Davy said of his George Barley Water Prize experience. “We were introduced to some local farmers who are all well aware of the phosphorus issue and the challenge around growing products and washing products on rural properties.

“We were able, through talking to them, to adapt some technology for a closed-loop system and they are treating the water on site,” Davy said. The process limits phosphorus discharge and allows for reuse of both water and separated phosphorus, he said.

Farmers are “able to keep the nutrients in the topsoil and create sort of a sustainable loop on their property,” Davy said. BF

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