This is kind of backward. States have banned phosphorus fertilizers for lawns, because the phosphorus runs off the landscape, into rivers and streams, and breeds algal blooms and muck. Ever visited a beach visited by muck? It’s not a vacation.
But here comes some new warnings: Climate change can cause more phosphorus to leach from the soil. I can see the conflicts now: People who want thicker lawns vs. people who want to relax in the sweet, sweet sugar sand.
The argument for phosphorus bans has been the need to keep beaches free of dead algae, and the fact that soil in places like Michigan already contains enough natural phosphorus to grow a decent lawn.
But climate change predictions include more heavy rainstorms, with soil being rewetted more frequently. Apparently, this rewetting means an increase in phosphorus that leaches from the soil and into our waterways.
And this is about more than the beach.
Algal blooms also affect water quality. You may have smelled one coming out of your faucet. It takes more chemicals to clean drinking water when algal blooms are present, and some algal blooms are toxic. They can make swimmers sick and kill your dog, for instance.
Which brings me to the thought of phosphorus removal technology, via wastewater treatment plants. How much removal is economical? And what about technologies to reduce phosphorus runoff, via wetland construction or other methods? Is this a growth industry under climate change scenarios?
The phosphorus leaching research was published in a journal called Biology and Fertility of Soils. It was conducted by scientists from North Wyke Research in the United Kingdom.
“These results suggest that changes in patterns of rainfall frequency and intensity predicted by climate change scenarios could significantly affect the quantities of P leached from soils,” according to an abstract.