Jun 28, 2022 - News

Des Moines unveils plans for a $40 million phosphorus recovery plant

A water treatment facility
The Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority’s main facilities along the 3000 block of Vandalia Road in Des Moines. Photo: Courtesy of the WRA

A $40 million phosphorus recovery facility will be constructed by the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority (WRA) under a plan presented to the city's Urban Design Review Board last week.

  • The WRA anticipates tougher state and federal regulations to limit phosphorus and is trying to get ahead of them, Larry Hare, the WRA's treatment manager, tells Axios.

Why it matters: Phosphorus is a naturally occurring element but when there is too much of it — usually from fertilizers, manures or sewage — it can lead to reduced oxygen in water. That can result in toxic algae that can be harmful to humans and animals.

The intrigue: WRA's staff developed and patented a new method that absorbs more phosphorus from wastewater, Hare said.

  • The facility will run an estimated three times more efficiently as compared to others that use more common techniques that involve chemicals.
  • It will reduce phosphorus in water cleaned by the WRA by an estimated 80%.
  • The removed phosphorus will be converted into pellets and sold to fertilizer markets, likely covering the cost of the plant's future operating costs, Hare said.

State of play: The project has been under consideration for about five years. It was delayed partly because WRA staff was studying how to make the plant more efficient, Hare told Axios.

The big picture: The WRA is made up of 17 metro communities and is the largest sewage treatment plan in Iowa.

  • Its efforts could have a big impact in reducing Iowa's levels of excess phosphorus that in recent years have contributed to thousands of miles of "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico and the biological devastation known as "red tide" in places like Florida.
  • The dead zone is an area of low oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life, according to the NOAA.

What's next: The WRA will seek construction bids for the project at its southeast DSM facilities in coming months.

A drawing of a wastewater facility.
This is one of multiple buildings that will be constructed or fitted for the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority's new phosphorus recovery facility. Drawing courtesy of the WRA.
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