Understanding phosphorus/phosphates, the need for its reduction and the effect of too much on the environment

What is phosphorous/phosphates?
Phosphorus is a nutrient vital to human, animal, and plant life. It is one of the most common substances in our environment, naturally occurring in our food, water, and bodies, as well as, in human and animal waste. In nature, phosphorus usually exists in the form of an organic or inorganic phosphate molecule. Organic phosphates are formed from plant or animal tissue. Inorganic phosphates are like minerals and which are an essential nutrient for plant growth. Both organic and inorganic phosphate can be dissolved in water or attached to other particles in water.

Why is too much bad?
Too much of an increase of phosphorus in freshwater systems can set off a whole chain of undesirable events in a stream, lake or other body of water. Under the right conditions, too much phosphorus in streams, rivers and lakes can lead to accelerated plant growth, algae blooms, low dissolved oxygen, and the death of certain fish, invertebrates and other aquatic animals.

Because phosphorus is a nutrient, algae thrive on it. Algae can spread across the water surface in floating blooms that prevent sunlight from reaching the underlying plants. As a consequence, plants die and decompose. Micro-organisms that feed on dying plants also thrive and consume too much of the oxygen in the water body, leaving fish and other aquatic life to die.

Click the above graphic to view/download a 14-page "Best Management Practices for Phosphorus in the Environment" publication from the University of Tennessee