EPA Nutrient Management Center

Reclaim at USF is re-imagining coastal urban infrastructure systems to allow for better management and recovery of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Below is a description of our Center for Reinventing Aging Infrastructure for Nutrient Management (RAINmgt), including major research thrusts, demonstration sites, and associated publications.

Visit the EPA’s Nutrient Pollution website to learn more about the problem, see what you can do to help, and for technical resources on nutrient pollution.

  • The University of South Florida department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in partnership with the University of Texas Resources for the Future, Yale University, University of Florida, University of Maryland, and Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa have been awarded a competitive grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program to establish a Center for Reinventing Aging Infrastructure for Nutrient Management (RAINmgt). As a national research center RAINmgt will tackle a dire issue plaguing our nation’s waterways that is critical to Florida’s and the Nation’s economic and social well being: nutrient inputs such as nitrogen and phosphorus from domestic wastewater and stormwater. The National Academy of Engineering has identified managing the nitrogen cycle and restoring and improving urban infrastructure as two of their Grand Challenges.

    RAINmgt will assist efforts to manage and control nutrients in a more sustainable and innovative manner. RAINmgt will accomplish this through integrated research involving engineers, economists, soil scientists, ecologists and other experts. It will use a system view by considering social and economic factors affecting adoption of new technologies. Our work will also emphasize pollution prevention by preferring source reduction and reuse options over treatment and disposal.

    The mission of RAINmgt is to achieve sustainable and healthy communities in a cost-effective manner by re-thinking aging coastal urban infrastructure systems for nutrient recovery and management. The overall goal of RAINmgt is to manage the nutrients in our urban coastal watersheds by fostering fresh ideas to solving the problems and inviting the community, policy makers, regulators, design engineers, and regulated entities in a joint effort.

    • 1. Sustainable Management of Point Sources of Nutrients

      Conventional technologies for wastewater treatment from households, business, and industries are typically centralized and consume large amounts of energy and materials.  Much of this energy is associated with the nitrification/denitrification process. This process inefficiently takes ammonia nitrogen through the entire nitrogen cycle and then “discards” it back into the atmosphere. Much of this nitrogen and also phosphorous in wastewater could be harvested instead of relying on existing, unsustainable agricultural fertilizers.

      RAINmgt envisions a more sustainable urban wastewater infrastructure as the basis of the innovation in this research thrust as depicted in the figure below. This infrastructure applies the Pollution Prevention Framework, nutrient management closest to the source with higher concentration and purity, and decentralized treatment and reuse. This is at a key time when many wastewater facilities throughout the U.S. have an aging infrastructure ill-equipped to handle increased demand from growing urban populations and require upgrading or replacement.

      The fundamental research question for Research Thrust Area 1 is: “What innovative and sustainable point source nutrient management technologies can be developed, demonstrated, and evaluated for novel water management?”

      To answer this question, three objectives will be accomplished as part of this Thrust area that will develop and demonstrate:

      • Solutions for building-level nutrient recovery through innovative sorption-precipitation technologies.
      • A decentralized wastewater resource recovery solution based on the anaerobic membrane bioreactor technology, which can generate and sustain high quality product water (permeate) containing nutrients suitable for irrigation.
      • Innovative nutrient recovery solutions at a large wastewater treatment plant, through sidestream nutrient recovery using sorption-precipitation technologies

      Nutrient flux in a sustainable municipal wastewater infrastructure is managed at different scales and source reduction and recycling/reuse are preferred over treatment.

      Nutrient flux in a sustainable municipal wastewater infrastructure is managed at different scales and source reduction and recycling/reuse are preferred over treatment.

    • 2. Sustainable Management of Diffuse Sources of Nutrients

      Management of non-point nutrient sources is critical in reducing coastal eutrophication. In the past, levels of nitrogen were largely coming from point sources such as wastewater treatment plants and industry. The efforts focused on point sources have largely helped reduce the levels of nitrogen in areas such as Tampa Bay and now a large fraction of the overall nutrient load is coming from diffuse sources (i.e., non-point sources) such as residential homes and transportation use.

      The fundamental research question for Research Thrust Area 2 is: What innovative and sustainable non-point source nutrient management technologies and strategies can be developed, demonstrated, and evaluated for novel water management? To answer this question Thrust Area 2 is further divided into three components:

      • Implementing innovative low impact development (LID) technologies for stormwater management.
      • Advancing onsite wastewater systems from a management strategy more inclined for disposal/treatment, towards nutrient removal and recovery.
      • Quantifying residential fertilizer applications and loadings as they relate to socio-economic differences and presence/absence of fertilizer sales and seasonal application bans.

      RAINmgt’s vision for Thrust 2 is illustrated in the figure on the left. Existing infrastructure (red) includes diffuse sources from (1) fertilizer application by homeowners that may be unregulated and unaware of the consequences, (2) conventional septic systems that poorly remove nutrients (particularly nitrogen) and (3) stormwater management focused on flood protection rather than nutrient management. A more sustainable diffuse source nutrient management infrastructure is shown in the lower, green, part of the figure that includes the three non-point source, diffuse technologies and strategies discussed above including: (1) low impact development (LID) systems, (2) on-site waste water treatment systems and (3) diffuse residential lawn nutrient management.

      Nutrient Fluxes in conventional (upper) and green (lower) non-point source infrastructures.

      Nutrient Fluxes in conventional (upper) and green (lower) non-point source infrastructures.

      (1) Low Impact Development Technologies

      LID is a structural Best Management Practice approach that works with nature to manage stormwater as close to its source as possible to promote the natural movement of water and maintain or restore a watershed’s hydrologic and ecological functions.   Among LID technologies, bioretention systems (i.e., “rain gardens” or “bioswales”) are promising for reducing nutrient loads from urban runoff.  The goal of this research component is to develop innovative and sustainable bioretention systems that can remove nutrients under the dynamic loading conditions typical of urban stormwater runoff.

      (2) Innovative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems

      Approximately one third of the wastewater in the U.S. is treated using onsite systems and the Florida Department of Health reports there are more than 2.6 million septic systems in Florida serving about one-third of the state’s 19 million residents.  These systems are designed to reduce the risks of exposure to pathogens and vectors but are not designed and optimized for nutrient removal. As attention from water quality regulators and the public in many watersheds on nitrogen loadings increases, new options are sought for onsite treatment. The goal of this research component is to optimize nitrogen and phosphorus removal in transiently loaded onsite wastewater treatment systems using innovative media materials while keeping maintenance easy for homeowners.

      (3) Diffuse Residential Lawn Nutrient Management

      EPA (2011) reports that approximately 50% of turfgrass (i.e., any of various grasses grown to form turf) is not fertilized.  However, the remainder is fertilized at different intensities.  In coastal areas where residential and urban land use patterns are promoted, fertilization of lawns can be an important (and even a dominant) source of nitrogen entering surface waters. Some research has been performed to quantify the release of nutrients from commercial and residential landscaping but there is not enough data on the different usage based on socio-economic factors. The goal of this research component is to quantify the release of nutrients from residential yards in a socio-economic context, with specific focus on the Tampa Bay area.

    • 3. Socioeconomic Analysis and Environmental Analysis, and Systems Integration

      For Research Thrust 3, a systems approach and socioeconomic analysis will be applied to the technologies used for point and diffuse source nutrient management. It will quantify private, social, and environmental costs and benefits, defining barriers to implementation of new technological approaches (in terms of incentives for their adoption by private households and businesses, and regulated public entities such as wastewater treatment plants).  The work will illuminate an innovative path forward for social optimization of nutrient management techniques in urban coastal watersheds. This research will answer the following fundamental questions:

      What are the social, environmental and economic benefits and costs of innovative point source and diffuse source nutrient management practices, and how do they compare with benefits and costs of nutrient removal at centralized treatment plants?

      What do the benefits and costs of such nutrient management practices imply about the incentives for their adoption by households, businesses, and local and state public managers, and how can this information be used to develop innovative policies (e.g., regulations, property tax or municipal sewage charge credits), pedagogical tools, and community outreach programs to encourage their use?

      To answer these questions, RAINmgts research in Thrust Area 3 is further divided into four components:

      • Life cycle environmental impact and cost analysis for nutrient removal and recovery technologies at different scales.
      • Integrated analytical, hydroeconomic modeling frameworks to analyze the cost-effectiveness of nutrient removal and recovery technologies.
      • Scaling up of integrated hydroeconomic modeling frameworks to nutrient management problems in Tampa Bay, FL.
      • Reducing social and regulatory barriers to implementation of innovative nutrient management practices in urban coastal watersheds.

      These four components come together with the two other thrusts to develop a decision support tool for sustainable nutrient management, as seen in the flow-chart below.

      Thrust 3 decision support system

  • Peer-Reviewed Publications  

    Butcher, M.R. (2014) Diffuse Nutrient Pollution from Residential Catchments. M.S. Thesis, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL.

    Ergas, S.J., Krayzelova, L., Rodriguez-Gonzalez, L., Payne, K., Trotz, M. (2015) Hybrid Adsorption Biological Treatment Systems (HABiTS) for Improved Nitrogen Removal in Onsite Wastewater Treatment, Proc. Water Environment Federation Nutrients Symposium, San Jose, CA. July 26-28.

    Kuwayama, Y., Kamen, H. (in review) What Drives the Reuse of Municipal Wastewater? A County-Level Analysis of Florida. Submitted to Land Economics.

    Lynn, T.J., Yeh, D., Ergas, S.J. (2015) Performance of Denitrifying Stormwater Biofilters Under Intermittent Conditions, Environmental Engineering Science, 32(9): 796-805.

    Lynn, T.J., Ergas, S.J., Nachabe, M.H. (in review) Effect of Hydrodynamic Dispersion in Denitrifying Wood-Chip Stormwater Biofilters, Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment – ASCE.

    Rodriguez-Gonzalez, L., Payne, K., Trotz, D., Ergas, S.J. (2015) Hybrid Adsorption and Biological Treatment Systems (HABiTS) for onsite wastewater treatment. Proc. 88th Annual Meeting Water Environment Federation (WEFTEC 15), Chicago, IL. September 26-30.

    Tong S., Rodriguez-Gonzalez L.C., Payne K.A., Feng C., Ergas S.J. (in review) Particulate pyrite autotrophic denitrification (PPAD) of domestic wastewater, Chemosphere.

    Presentations

    Ergas, S.J. (2015) Hybrid Adsorption Biological Treatment Systems (HABiTS) with Sulfur Oxidizing Denitrification, Department of Biotechnology, Delft Technological University (TU Delft), Delft, the Netherlands. September 3.

    Ergas, S.J. (2015) Hybrid Adsorption Biological Treatment Systems (HABiTS) for Improved Nitrogen Removal in Onsite Wastewater Treatment, Department of Environmental Engineering and Water Technology, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, the Netherlands. October 16.

    Ergas, S.J. (2014) Hybrid Adsorption Biological Treatment Systems (HABiTS) for Improved Nitrogen Removal in Onsite Wastewater Treatment, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh PA. November 14.

    Lopez, E. V., Locicero, R. C.R., Lynn, T.J., Ergas, S. J., Barton, F., Mihelcic, J. P., Trotz, M. A. (2015) How Concepts of Stormwater and Nutrient Management can Build Non-Traditional Workforce Capacity in an Urban Community. Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professionals (AEESP), New Haven CT. June 13-16.

    Lopez, E.V. (2015) Modified Bioretention Systems for Management of Nitrogen in Stormwater: Field Performance and Modeling Studies. Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Defense, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL. November 18.

    Orner, K.D. (2015) Net-Energy-Positive Nutrient Removal and Recovery from Digester Effluent. University of South Florida EWRE Seminar, Tampa, FL. November 4.

    Ozcan, O., Prieto, A.L., Jean, H., Bair, R.A, Yeh, D.H. (2015) Phototrophic Membrane Bioreactor (PMBR) for the Management of Nutrients in Domestic Wastewater. Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professionals (AEESP), New Haven CT. June 15.

    Ozcan, O., Jean, H., Bair, R.A, Prieto, A.L., Pickett, M., Yeh, D.H. (2015) Phototrophic Membrane Bioreactor (PMBR) for the Management of Nutrients in Domestic Wastewater. Water Environment Federation Nutrients Symposium, San Jose, CA. July 28.

    Payne, K., Rodriguez-Gonzalez, L., Tong, S., Cunningham, J., Trotz, M., Ergas, S.J. (2015) Mathematical Modeling of HABiTS for Enhanced Nitrogen Removal. American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting, Salt Lake City, Utah. November 8.

    Rodriguez-Gonzalez, L., Payne, K., Trotz, M., Anderson, D., Ergas, S.J. (2015) Hybrid Adsorption and Biological Treatment systems (HABiTS) for Onsite Wastewater Treatment, Proc. NEHA Annual Educational Conference, Orlando, FL. July 13-15.

    Poster Presentations

    Balaguer-Barbosa, M., Diaz-Elsayed, N., Cornejo, P.K., Zhang, Q. (2015) A Comparison of Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Conventional and Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems. Emerging Research National (ERN) Conference in STEM, Washington, D.C. February 19-21.

    Balaguer-Barbosa, M., Diaz-Elsayed, N., Cornejo, P.K., Zhang, Q. (2015) A Comparison of Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Conventional and Advanced Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems. Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Conference, Detroit, MI. November 5-9.

    Orner, K.D., Cunninghan, J. (2015) Net-Energy-Positive Nutrient Removal and Recovery from Digester Effluent. University of South Florida Research Day, Tampa, FL.

    Orner, K.D., Cunninghan, J.A., Saetta, D., Boyer, T.H., Ozcan, O., Yeh, D.H. (2015) Sewershed-Scale Nutrient Management. Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professionals (AEESP), New Haven CT. June 13-16.

    Reed, M.C., Isaacs, W.N., Trotz, M.A. (2015) Green Infrastructure and Engineering with K-12 for Nitrogen Management. Symposium on Nutrient Management in the Urban Water Sector, Tampa, FL. November 13.

    Rodriguez-Gonzalez, L.C., Payne, K.A., Trotz, M.A., Ergas, S.J. (2015) Hybrid Adsorption and Biological Treatment Systems (HABiTs) for onsite wastewater treatment. AWRA Student Research Poster Contest at the 24th Annual Southwest Florida Water Resources Conference in Fort Myers FL. February 6.

    Rodriguez-Gonzalez, L.C., Payne, K.A., Trotz, M.A., Ergas, S.J. (2015) Hybrid Adsorption and Biological Treatment Systems (HABiTs) for onsite wastewater treatment. Symposium on Nutrient Management in the Urban Water Sector, Tampa, FL. November 13.

    Saetta, D., Boyer, T.H. (2015) “Manipulation of urea hydrolysis during urine source separation for complete phosphorus recovery.” Florida Section of the American Water Works Association (FSAWWA).

    Saetta, D., Ray, H., Boyer, T.H.  (2015) Manipulation of urea hydrolysis during urine source separation for complete phosphorus recovery.” Association of Environmental Engineering & Science Professionals (AEESP), New Haven, CT. June 13-16.

    Tong S., Rodriguez-Gonzalez L.C., Payne K.A., Feng C., Ergas S.J. (2015) Comparison of particulate pyrite autotrophic denitrification (PPAD) and sulfur oxidizing denitrification (SOD) in wastewater treatment. Symposium Nutrient Management in the Urban Water Sector, Tampa, FL. November 13.

    Tong S., Rodriguez-Gonzalez L.C., Henderson M.B., Feng C., Ergas S.J. (2015) Particulate pyrite autotrophic denitrification (PPAD) for remediation of nitrate-contaminated groundwater (H32E-06). American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA. December 16.

    Zhang, Q., Diaz-Elsayed, N., Dao, H., Zimmerman, J. (2015) Thrust #3a: Life cycle environmental impact and cost analysis for nutrient removal and recovery technologies. U.S. EPA National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) National Nutrient Management Kickoff Workshop, Narragansett, RI. January 20-21.