Removing Nutrients: What Price?

U.S. EPA collects data on cost-effective and efficient approaches to meeting stricter nitrogen and phosphorus permit requirements

Stricter effluent nutrient limits pose a dilemma for clean-water plant teams: How to comply with the new permit, and at what cost?

Major plant upgrades to drive down nitrogen and (especially) phosphorus levels can cost millions of dollars and may be out of reach for facilities serving small communities, especially those with lower-income populations that can’t easily absorb a big rate increase.

Now the U.S. EPA is compiling a study on efficient and cost-effective approaches for nutrient removal, looking to help communities find ways to meet stricter limits without undue financial burden.

Gathering data

Through its National Study of Nutrient Removal and Secondary Technologies, the EPA seeks to learn about alternate ways in which clean-water plants can reduce nutrient discharges while optimizing operation and maintenance practices — all while avoiding large capital expenses. The study has three main goals:

• Collect nationwide data on nutrient removal

• Encourage improved facility performance with less expense

• Provide a forum for plant teams to share best practices

You can share information about your plant and its nutrient removal processes by filling out a screener questionnaire at The questionnaire asks about the facility type, daily flows, the nature of the wastewater (residential, industrial), the treatment technologies, nutrient removal processes either in place or planned, and other data.  

Why take part?

When completed, the study will help clean-water plants optimize nutrient removal by providing information from similar facilities that have already achieved success with cost-effective approaches. It will also serve as nationwide data resource to help facilities evaluate and develop achievable nutrient reduction initiatives. In addition, the study will provide a rich database of nutrient removal performance for treatment plant teams, state agencies, academic researchers and other interested parties.

Results of the screener questionnaire to date demonstrate that all types of treatment plants can improve nutrient removal. Survey results to date show more than 1,000 facilities with different biological treatment methods (conventional and advanced) can achieve effluent total nitrogen of 8 mg/L and total phosphorus of 1 mg/L.

The study website includes fact sheets that describe low-cost process adjustments facilities have made to reduce nutrient discharges. More information about the study is available by emailing


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