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Changing the world through better phosphorus management

ASU Wrigley Institute News Phosphorus Alliance

February 25, 2019

river flowing through green fieldsGreener fields and bluer waters are in the cards thanks to a new project in development by the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance at Arizona State University. Slated to launch in April, the Phosphorus Sustainability Challenge will encourage organizations to publicly commit to reducing their phosphorus footprint.

Phosphorus isn’t the first thing people think of when discussing sustainability, but it’s essential for global food security. Phosphorus is a key ingredient in crop fertilizers, as it is essential for plant growth and yield, and it’s also added to animal feed to grow their bodies and especially their bones.

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Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Stockholm Water Prize co-recipient to be keynote speakers at Phosphorus Forum 2019

Institute Press Releases ASU Wrigley Institute News Food Systems News Phosphorus Alliance

November 21, 2018

Washington, D.C. capitol building with flowers in foregroundThe Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance has announced that Kathleen Merrigan and Bruce Rittmann will be the keynote speakers at Phosphorus Forum 2019, scheduled for April 5, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Kathleen Merrigan, who holds a PhD in environmental planning and policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has decades of experience in agriculture, sustainability and food systems. As the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 to 2013, Merrigan managed the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to support local and regional food systems. She became the first female chair of the Ministerial Conference of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in 2009; she was named one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people in the world” in 2010; and she was the Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University, where she led the GW Sustainability Collaborative and the GW Food Institute. In 2018 Merrigan became the first Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University.

Bruce Rittmann, who holds a PhD in environmental engineering from Stanford University, was named a 2018 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for revolutionizing water and wastewater treatment through the development of environmental biotechnology-based processes. His work has led to a new generation of water treatment processes that can effectively extract nutrients from wastewater. In his research, Rittmann has studied how microorganisms can transform organic pollutants to something of value to humans and the environment. He has authored or co-authored more than 650 peer-reviewed scientific papers and has chaired the Program Committee of the Leading Edge Technology Conference of the International Water Association. Rittmann is Regents' Professor of Environmental Engineering and director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at ASU's Biodesign Institute.

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Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance Represented in International Conferences

Phosphorus Alliance

September 5, 2018

Dr. Jim Elser at confernce in China

Drs. Jim Elser and Matt Scholz of the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance made presentations on topics related to phosphorus sustainability at recent conferences in Asia and Europe.

Jim Elser, executive director of the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance, gave a keynote address at the 4th International Conference on Environmental Pollution and Health held at Nankai University in Tianjin, China. His talk was “Phosphorus, Food, and Our Future,” regarding the critical need for this non-renewable resource in agriculture and the impact of excess phosphorus in waterways.

Other speakers at the conference represented the US Environmental Protection Agency and universities in China, Japan, Canada, several European countries, and the US. Visit for additional information about the conference.

Jim Elser gave the same talk at the Center for Material Cycles and the Environment in the Department of Environmental Planning and Management of Nanjing University in Nanjing, China.

Matt Scholz, program manager of the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance, made a presentation at the third European Sustainable Phosphorus Conference (ESPC3) in Helsinki, Finland. He introduced the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance as a membership organization and North America’s central forum and advocate for the sustainable use, recovery and recycling of phosphorus in the food system. The Sustainable Phosphorus Alliances works with industry to find solutions and is the North American analog to the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform, which hosted the conference. Matt also provided context for the phosphorus situation

Other speakers at the conference represented governments and sustainability organizations in countries across Europe. Visit for additional information about the ESPC3 and watch the presentation made by Matt Scholz on YouTube at

More information on the activities of the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance is available at

Flathead Lake an Example of Effective Phosphorus Monitoring and Lake Protection

Phosphorus Alliance

September 5, 2018

Flathead lake, Montana

Flathead Lake in Montana is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western continental US (by surface area). It is also one of the cleanest large lakes in the world, with amazingly transparent water attracting people for fishing, swimming and water sports. The lake is a vital part of the Crown of the Continent, the largest intact ecosystem in the United States.

The health of the lake owes a lot to the Flathead Lake Biological Station (FLBS), which has conducted a scientifically-rigorous monitoring program since 1977. On August 1, 2018, the FLBS was presented the prestigious Stewardship Award by a local lake protection group, the Flathead Lakers. The Stewardship Award was given in recognition of the Bio Station's sustained and outstanding contributions to the protection of Flathead Lake and its watershed.

By all historical reports Flathead Lake was highly oligotrophic, meaning lacking in key nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, a condition reflecting the largely undeveloped nature of its watershed in wilderness and national park. However, during the 1970’s, FLBS monitoring indicated higher levels of nutrients and algae growth due to population expansion that resulted in untreated sewage entering the lake. During this time, FLBS itself installed a modern wastewater treatment plant to treat its own sewage, a plant with advanced phosphorus removal capacities that were cutting edge at the time. Following this successful local demonstration, this technology was soon adopted by local communities such as the city of Kalispell. During subsequent years, FLBS monitoring has documented that levels of phosphorus loading to the lake as well as phosphorus concentrations in the lake have actually declined. As a result, the lake has maintained its world-famous water clarity.

However, new concerns have arisen, especially surrounding the impacts of aging and improperly installed septic tank systems associated with the lake’s growing population. In response, new distributed household and neighborhood treatment systems are likely needed to maintain the health and cleanliness of Flathead Lake. Indeed, FLBS itself needs to replace its now outdated wastewater treatment plant and seeks to implement a modular resource recovery system that will recycle phosphorus and nitrogen and capture bioenergy.

Flathead Lake is a success story in a time when about 40 percent of rivers and lakes in the U.S. surveyed by the EPA are too polluted for swimming or fishing, and lakes across the US are impacted by harmful algal blooms. The FLBS’s experience demonstrates the importance of ongoing vigilant monitoring that is connected to an engaged community in maintaining a lake’s health and cleanliness.

Dr. Jim Elser is executive director of the Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance and director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station. Read more about the FLBS and the Stewardship Award at