Finalists named in George Barley Water Prize contest; solutions sought to reduce phosphorus in waterways

MIAMI — After more than two years of testing their technologies in laboratories and in the field, the four finalists in The George Barley Water Prize — a $10 million incentive award to find a new technology capable of removing phosphorus from polluted fresh body waters — were announced yesterday at a formal ceremony in Toronto. The four finalists each received $125,000 to support their continuing research and development.

Phosphorus is widely used in chemical fertilizers, and while essential for plant growth and human health, excess amounts in waterways nurtures the growth of algae that is killing fish and spoiling water quality worldwide. According to the World Resources Institute, more than 15,000 freshwater bodies in the United States alone are affected by phosphorus pollution.

The George Barley Water Prize finalists who will advance to phase 4 are:
• Clean Water Machine from the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho;
• Wetsus NAFRAD from Leeuwarden, the Netherlands;
• Green Water Solution, Inc. from Wellington, Fla.; and
• U.S. Geological survey Leetown Science Center from Kearneysville, W.V.

“These finalists represent our best hope for solving the algae crisis that is choking waterways worldwide,” said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation, which is hosting the competition with presenting sponsor The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation.

The George Barley Water Prize was launched in 2016, following a state of emergency in Florida that lasted for 242 days as a result of toxic algae blooms that devastated the state’s waterways. The competition attracted 104 international competitors, which were then narrowed down to nine competitors who tested their technologies under cold weather conditions in Toronto for a 90-day stretch in early 2018. The four remaining teams will now advance to the final phase of the competition, the “Grand Challenge,” where they will test their technologies in warm water conditions at Lake Jesup, near Orlando. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is contributing $1 million towards the final phase.

“The four finalists will engage in 14 months of intensive field testing under moderate and warm weather conditions,” Mr. Eikenberg said. “These final four teams will need to prove their technologies’ ability to work in both freezing and warm temperatures. This will be their opportunity to showcase the global applicability of their solutions.”

Modeled after the incentive prizes that encouraged Charles Lindbergh to make the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight and that led to the invention of fire extinguishers and commercial hydraulic turbines, The George Barley Water Prize is a $10 million award to the team that can develop a safe, effective and affordable method to remove phosphorus from waterways on a large scale. The prize is named after the late George Barley, one of the two founders of The Everglades Foundation, Eikenberg noted.

“It’s clear that groundbreaking innovation is needed to solve for harmful algae blooms caused by excess phosphorus,” said Jim King, President of The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation.

“Stage 3 marked a turning point in the Barley Prize competition, bringing innovations into the real world for testing. While our company removed phosphorus from routine lawn products a number of years ago, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation continues to stand behind this race for a solution to phosphorus pollution as it enters its final stage — a chance to solve this global problem, once and for all.”

Runoff from man’s long-standing use of phosphorus-based fertilizers is so extensive, scientists believe, that even if its use were to be eliminated altogether, there is so much of the mineral already stored in water and soil that it would continue to be a serious pollutant, creating algae blooms for decades, if not centuries, to come.

“Using today’s technologies, it would cost upward of $3 trillion to reduce the current worldwide flow of phosphorus by just 10 percent,” explained Loren Parra, Director of the Barley Prize. “Living and working here in Florida, we could certainly benefit from a solution and we are excited, hopeful and anxious to see what comes from the Grand Challenge.”

The George Barley Water Prize is hosted by The Everglades Foundation in association with the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation as presenting sponsor, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Chicago Community Trust, the Knight Foundation, The Field Museum, and Xylem, Inc.

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