A Summit to Remember

By Dr. Ellen Gilinsky

Put together innovation and incentive, mix with brain power and competitive drive, and you get creative solutions to a major water quality challenge while creating economic benefits at the same time.

I’ve spent much of my career tackling nutrient pollution. During that time, the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering our waterways has increased dramatically, making nutrient pollution one of the most urgent and costly environmental problems facing the U.S. today. Technological innovation has the potential to play a major role in mitigating nutrient pollution while also creating economic benefits for livestock producers.

In November 2015, EPA partnered with pork and dairy producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and environmental and scientific experts to launch the Nutrient Recycling Challenge—a competition to find affordable technologies that can help farmers manage nutrients, create valuable products, and protect the environment. EPA received 75 concept papers from around the world, and selected 34 submissions to proceed to Phase II of the challenge.

The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well at a March 30th summit held at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building to honor innovators selected to move to Phase II, and provide a forum for them to network with each other. At this summit, I had the pleasure of recognizing 10 cash prize winners in the challenge. Many of the industries potentially interested in using the technologies that emerge in the Nutrient Recycling Challenge were also present. There was much chatter between innovators and end users, looking to capitalize on synergies and develop even better prototypes that could work for real-world producers. Innovators walked away from the summit with fresh ideas to refine their concepts and new allies who can help bring their ideas to fruition, and ultimately to the market.

As exciting as the innovators and their ideas were, I was also struck by the excitement and energy of the EPA professional staff who organized this competition. This group of talented, young EPA engineers, scientists, and environmental specialists are the future of our Agency, as well as the environmental movement in general. They are using new and modern tools that harness the power of rapid, global communication with computer modeling and forecasting to come up with new solutions for age old environmental challenges. Our young EPA professionals have been the driving force behind this exciting initiative. Their drive and dedication, coupled with the talent of innovators, is a surefire recipe for success.

About the author: Dr. Ellen Gilinsky is the Senior Policy Advisor in EPA’s Office of Water. Dr. Gilinsky addresses policy and technical issues related to all EPA Water programs, with an emphasis on science, water quality and state programs.

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