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World Water Day Celebration Culminates With $25,000 Prize For Technology To Reduce Contamination

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Tom Hudson
/
WLRN
Marshes in the Everglades filter out some phosphorus from fresh water in the ecosystem. But it's not enough to prevent problems like uncontrolled cattail growth.

Water, water everywhere, but a lot of it’s contaminated.

That’s a theme of World Water Day 2017, which took place Wednesday. It extends to South Florida, where high phosphorus levels in the Everglades contribute to harmful algae blooms and cattails that dominate native sawgrass.

On Wednesday, the Everglades Foundation celebrated World Water Day by announcing the winner of the first round of its multi-million dollar George Barley Water Prize. The competition includes four rounds and encourages development of technology to reduce phosphorus contamination.

Read more: Everglades 101: Just How Does This Thing Work, Anyway?

A group from the Netherlands called Wetsus NaFRAd earned $25,000 for proposing a process that would clump solid particles of phosphorus together for removal and absorb the rest. Tom Van Lent, the Everglades Foundation’s vice president for programs, said the technologies under development could have an impact well beyond South Florida.

“Freshwater wetlands all across the nation, all across the world are suffering from excessive fertilizer pollution,” he said. “At the very same time, this fertilizer that’s doing the polluting is an essential component to grow our food. So we’re in a quandary: How do we protect our wetlands but also protect our food supply?”

Read more: Fifth Graders Learn About The Importance Of Water In Florida On World Water Day

Other finalists in the first round of competition include a team from Florida International University and one that involves researchers from the University of Miami. The FIU team says it will take a holistic view of the phosphorus problem, considering ecological and social factors as it develops an iron fiber-based technology. The UM researchers, with teammates from North Carolina State and the University of Maryland, plan to focus on a three-tiered treatment process utilizing plants and iron filings to strip out excess nutrients.

Entries “run the gamut of technology and different applications,” Van Lent said. “As a scientist, I find that so cool.”

Read more: What We Talk About When We Talk About Everglades Restoration

The competition is named for Everglades Foundation co-founder George Barley. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation is the biggest of several sponsors. Its second round is open now through Aug. 31. A total of $80,000 will be awarded in late 2017 to finalists in that round, who do not have to participate in round one.

But the real money lies in the grand prize challenge — a $10 million award to the phosphorus removal technology that’s most effective, lowest-cost and easiest to scale up for large quantities of water, among other factors.

The winner of the grand prize will be announced in late 2020.