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Eutrophication and the Phosphate Cycle

As a species, we have a history for changing the natural things on the earth to suit our

needs; the phosphate cycle is no exception to this pattern. Over the years, we have impacted

the phosphorus cycle by increasing the speed of which it is released into the water. We do

this often for our own benefit, as phosphorus is incorporated into fertilizer for agriculture and

other products, but at what cost? Eutrophication and monetary damages are the biggest

resulting issues from the overactive and sped up phosphate cycle.

How does the phosphorus cycle work? The natural phosphorus cycle once took

millions of years from start to finish, as it involved erosion and the traveling of molecules

through the earth. Phosphate molecules were released from rocks and soil through erosion,

and rely heavily on gravity to make their way to the ocean. Along the way, the molecules may

get ingested or absorbed by plants or animals. After traveling the wildlifes digestive tract, it is

released back into the soil and continues its path to the ocean. The path to the ocean for most

objects and organisms usually includes other bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. This

causes a problem when there is an abundance of phosphorus being introduced into a body of

water. This problem is called eutrophication.

Eutrophication is a problem occurring all over the world due to an accelerated

phosphate cycle. What is eutrophication? Eutrophication is when there is a large amount of a

nutrient in a lake or body of water, in this case phosphorus, which causes sudden plant

growth. In result of the sudden plant growth, the animals inhabiting the water die due to lack

of nutrients and oxygen. With phosphorus, the runoff from land has become so great that

algae in lakes has grown extensively.

Eutrophication is dangerous to our plants and animals. Large amounts of algae that

blanket tops of lakes suffocate the life living beneath it. Algae thrives with added phosphorus,

and is a thick substance most plants and animals cant break through on the waters surface.

Because of this, fish and organisms often cant get the nutrients they need to survive. Many
fish often die and rise to the surface as a result of suffocation. Dead fish and plants give off an

odor that make people not want to interact and go to these bodies of water.

This has been a big issue for those living near Lake Mendota, or that enjoyed using it

for recreational purposes. The eutrophication on the lake has deemed it unfit for swimming

purposes. Prior to 2006, Madison didnt have public pools. In 2006 however, they began

building pools, starting with Goodman. There are now multiple pools for public use in the

Madison area, making up for the fact that the lake is no longer fit for swimming.

Why the sudden rise in phosphorus? Phosphorus is mined only in a few select

locations, one being in the United States, so large amounts are being mined. Phosphorus is

incorporated into fertilizers and animal feed on a large scale. Wisconsin is an agricultural

based state, meaning we used large amounts of fertilizers and manure. Wisconsins main

crop is corn, which we use for grain. However, many universities are starting to question

whether such high amounts of phosphate are necessary in fertilizer. While some is necessary,

often more is added in hopes that it will benefit the crops.

As the runoff persists in agricultural locations around the world, eutrophication grows to

be a more persistent problem. A problem that is still ignored around the world in primarily

urban places. This problem needs to be brought to light, it is not the biggest issue in our world

today, but it is an unnecessary one. Phosphorus content can be controlled in its usage and

where it is controlled. It has already been removed from detergents, and the next step is

reducing and removing it from agricultural products.

How do we decrease the phosphate being put into the water? The most simplistic way

would be to stop using agricultural products that contain phosphorus. However, this will not

happen overnight. Governments could incentivize the citizens to only use a certain amount, or

penalize them for going over said amount. As a population, efforts could be put in to keep

lakes and bodies of water clean. While we cant keep the phosphorus out of the water entirely,

nor should we want to as it is a necessary factor in life, it is important to limit it. The

Netherlands has taken great action to prevent further damage to the Rhine river that passes

through the country.


The Netherlands has severe restrictions on the usage of products containing

phosphorus (information from worldwatch.org). This is because they are a largely populated

country that is widely focused around agriculture. The Rhine river passes through the

Netherlands from other countries, and is already high in phosphorus. As a result of these

factors, Dutch farmers have a manure limit. They are only allowed to spread a certain amount

of manure per acre. If they go over they must pay for removal and processing.

As you can see, small amounts of phosphorus is necessary, but large amounts can be

detrimental to the earth. While it may not be a large grade problem such as air pollution, it is

still a local problem for those living near Madison. With too much phosphorus in the water

cycle, we have too much algae and dead fish. There can only be so much done to combat the

already existing problem unless we are also willing to take on the problem itself.

All factual evidence in this paper was learned and taken from

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/516

Small portion on Goodman pool https://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/pool/