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Jacksonville pilot program to use Cape-produced pond-cleaning product

By Staff | Jul 25, 2019

The City of Jacksonville is using a product from a Cape Coral company to clean up a handful of stormwater retention ponds.

The two-year pilot program is using Microbe-Lift, developed by Ecological Laboratories, to determine whether it’s effective in reducing nitrogen and other pollutants in the city’s municipal ponds.

Jacksonville and Ecological Laboratories also teamed up in 2015 and used Microbe-Lift to successfully clean up three ponds in the northeastern Florida city.

“We have a representative with Jacksonville and we have been pursuing the city on various projects for several years,” said Delvia Lukito, assistant vice president and laboratory director at Ecological Laboratories. “Based on the 2015 study, they asked us to come back for the 2019 project.”

Through December 2020, nine stormwater retention ponds will be treated with Microbe-Lift, and the Jacksonville Environmental Quality Division will analyze water samples each month and record the total amount of nitrogen present.

Under the St. Johns Basin Management Action Plan, Jacksonville is under strict, mandatory guidelines to reduce the level of nitrogen by 2023. The Micro-Lift study is one of several approaches it’s taking to do so.

Via conventional means, the typical stormwater pond is able to achieve a 20% reduction in total nitrogen. The use of microbes could potentially achieve a 60% decrease.

Microbe-Lift will be sprayed topically on the stormwater ponds. There is also a dry product that will be applied at various locations around the ponds’ perimeters.

The first six months of samples will be used as a baseline. From June 25, 2019 to June, 2020, microbes will be added to nine of the 18 ponds. Sampling will then continue in each of the 18 ponds to see if nitrogen can be further reduced with the use of the microbes.

The study’s final six months will determine how often microbes would need to be applied to the ponds to achieve the maximum amount of reduction.

Nitrogen fuels harmful algae, which feed on it and create destructive blooms. Major nitrogen sources in Florida include septic systems, fertilizer, animal waste, wastewater treatment facilities and polluted urban rain runoff.

Microbe-Lift uses natural processes to remove organics and excess nutrients. The bacteria in Microbe-Lift convert nitrate-a form of nitrogen-into nitrogen gas, which is released into the atmosphere.

“Microbe-Lift technology contains stable vegetative photosynthetic bacteria that are very beneficial in balancing nutrient load and creating a healthy ecosystem without any harmful or toxic chemical,” Lukito said.

The first baseline for the study was taken this year in January to build six months of baseline data trend. The first application of Microbe-Lift was applied on June 25.

Jacksonville officials are in charge of testing the stormwater retention ponds.

“We’re not as involved as the Cabot Canal,” Lukito said. “They want to do their own testing in their own timeline and timeframe. They want to get a full 12 months on trial to cover the whole season-the summer, winter, dry and wet season.”

Lukito thinks one of the reasons Jacksonville chose to conduct the baseline in January was to get a good data point to stretch out the results or to get a data point far away enough to see what’s going to be treated and what’s going to be the control.

There are 18 stormwater basins in the study. Nine will be treated and nine will be the control.

Lukito says they’ll be looking at things like what changes are going to happen while the treatment is applied.

“The control is going to mirror the nine basins that are treated but without the product,” she explained. “In that aspect you can see how the basin is naturally progressing without treatment of the product versus the nine that will be treated and still monitored throughout the process to see what changes from time to time.”

The control group is to show what actually happened without Microbe-Lift. The treated ponds will show what happened with the application of the product over time.

Since there has only been one application of Microbe-Lift so far, it’s too early to gauge the results.

“With biological processes, it takes time,” Lukito said. “It’s not like a chemical process where you can see the results right away. Biological processes take longer but give longer results.”

Last year, Ecological Laboratories partnered with the City of Cape Coral and, under the consent of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, it used Microbe-List to clean up the Cabot Canal, near the Midpoint Bridge, and effectively rid it of blue-green algae.

“No doubt that it will work and be a successful trial,” Lukito said of the 2019 project. “Mitigating pollution such as organic material that has built up and reducing nitrogen.”

However, each system has its own challenges and they vary in some aspects such as the length of time or how long it will take to see results.

“Within a variation, success is still going to be a guarantee,” Lukito said.

She can’t predict the rates, explaining that sometimes it might take longer to see results. Or it could even be faster.

“It depends on the initial conditions of the basin itself,” Lukito said.

Microbe-Lift has been on the market for 40 years. It is being used in China and gated communities throughout Florida.

Ecological Laboratories is also working on treating two lakes in Naples and lakes in the Gateway community in Fort Myers. A variety of homeowners associations have been using Microbe-Lift as well to treat stormwater ponds they’re responsible for.

The Microbe-Lift program is being funded with more than $300,000 in support from the Florida Department of Transportation, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Microbe-Lift was evaluated through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection innovative product assessment program and approved for use in stormwater treatment.

The product is also safe for marine life.

Measures of success in Jacksonville will be determined with two questions:

Is there a clear calculation to estimate the total nitrogen reduction?

Do the results present a cost-effective option for maximum total nitrogen reduction?

Based on the results from the pilot program in 2015, Jacksonville EQD Chief, Melissa Long, predicts a 60% reduction in total nitrogen.