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Bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan :: Healthy Bay, Healthy Community

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The Phosphorus Problem In The Bay of Quinte

1 lb. Of Phosphorus Grows 500 lbs. Of Algae

Phosphorus (P) is a naturally-occuring element, essential to all life, present in all cells, nervous tissue and bones.  In just the right amount, it’s a beneficial, life-giving nutrient for rivers, lakes, bays, and streams.  On the other hand, too much phosphorus plays havoc with things.

In aquatic ecosystems like the Bay of Quinte (BQ), it’s the ability of phosphorus to promote rapid growth that causes problems.  It takes only 1 lb. of phosphorus to grow 500 lbs. of algae! Thick, floating algal mats cut off light and oxygen, choke out other aquatic plants and decomposing algae and weeds take up oxygen in the water that is vital to fish and other animals.   They can also cause taste and odour problems in drinking water. This nutrient-enrichment process is known as eutrophication, and it’s a classic example of too much of a good thing.

When Europeans arrived in the 1700s, the Bay of Quinte was in a balanced or “mesotrophic” state – meaning a moderate amount of nutrients.  By the 1970s, it had changed to a “hyper-eutrophic” state – meaning an excessive amount of nutrients.   Hyper-eutrophic is hyper-productive; runaway algal growth is stimulated by the high nutrient levels.  

At first the shift was gradual, with land clearing and agricultural runoff playing a large part in the process.  But then it occurred in surges as new uses for phosphates were discovered such as detergents and fertilizers.

Phosphorus and the Bay of Quinte fact sheet  

Zebra Mussels - It has been 20 years since the sinister little zebra mussel arrived and influenced the Bay's ecosystem.  Read More...            

Things You Can Do To Help

 •  Use phosphorus-free lawn fertilizer.  Fertilizer bags have 3 numbers; the middle number is    phosphorus.  E.g. 10 - 0 -10 is phosphorus free.

 •  If you fertilize, follow the instructions and don’t over-fertilize.

•  Restore your shorelines or stream banks (with appropriate approvals) to prevent phosphorus-laden runoff  from entering watercourses.

•  Plant as many trees as you can, especially near watercourses.  The web of underground roots acts as a    natural screen for phosphorus runoff.

•  Plant native shrubs and trees near shorelines

•  Wash vehicles on the lawn to prevent phosphorus-laden soaps from entering storm sewers.

•  Pick up after your animals

•  Use soaps, detergents and cleaners that don’t contain phosphates (TSP, DSP, MSP)If you do use soaps    and detergents that contain phosphates, follow the directions

•  Compost your kitchen scraps and lawn waste and use that as your fertilizer

•  Don’t over-water your lawn

•  Inform others about the affects of phosphorus