To Remove Or Not To Remove Nitrogen

The formula of algae is (CH2O)106(NH3)16H3PO3 (Sincero and Sincero, 1996). Gleaning from this formula, to curtail its production in any water body such as the Chesapeake Bay, it is necessary to control only any one of the elements of nitrogen, phosphorus, oxygen, hydrogen, or carbon. It must be stressed that only one needs to be controlled, because absence of any element needed for the construction of the algal body prevents the construction of the body. This is analogous to a car. To disable this car, you only need to remove one wheel and you can never drive the car.

Of course, oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon should never be controlled, because there are already plenty of them around. From the algae formula, the ratio of N to P is 16/1 = 16 mole for mole or 14(16)/31 = 7.2 mass for mass. Table 15.1 shows various values of nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the water column and the corresponding N/P ratios in some coastal areas of Maryland (Sincero, 1987). For those ratios greater than 7.2, phosphorus will run out first before nitrogen does. In these situations, phosphorus should be controlled first and nitrogen should be left alone in the discharge, until further investigation reveals that the ratio has reversed.

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