The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

‘You bet you’ farmers are interested in waste-water treatment sludge

In City Hall, Floods on February 11, 2009 at 2:43 pm

The vital incinerator at the city’s Water Pollution Control facility has been in disrepair since the flood, a fact that has forced the facility to find something else to do with the plant’s daily output of biosolid sludge.

For some years, the city has directed some of the sludge to area farmers for use as fertilizer at times when the incinerator has been down for repair.

Now, nearly all of it is going to farmers. In fact, farmers have been eager to take the stuff off the city’s hands, Steve Hershner, city utilities environmental manager, reports.

The sludge issue is coming up at City Hall on Wednesday as the council approves spending up to another $150,000 to landfill the sludge in the next year.

The council resolution updates a previous one that made $100,000 available for the landfilling of sewage sludge.

Hershner says the city likely will be forced to landfill sludge when farm fields are too wet in early spring to land apply the sludge.

The local solid waste agency has decided it does not want to use up space in its landfills for the sludge, so the city must spend more to haul it to Milan, Ill.

Land application costs the city only about 45 percent as much as hauling the sludge to an Illinois landfill. It’s about $25 a ton for land application, $55 a ton for landfilling, Hershner has said.

In recent months, farmers at about 40 sites have stepped forward to make their ground available for city’s sludge, and Hershner acknowledges that the city has received a “limited” number of complaints from neighbors.

At the same time, he has pointed out that the Cedar Rapids plant’s sludge is different than most waste-water treatment plants’ sludge because most of what the Cedar Rapids plant treats is waste from the local agricultural industries. About 80 percent of it is.

Most of the Cedar Rapids material was grown on the farm and, with land application, it returns to the land, Hershner says.

He notes that the repair of the sludge incinerator is expected to be complete in March, which will allow the city to begin to burn sludge again. Until then, the city must either land apply or landfill.

“When you’re in waste water treatment, you’re going to make biosolids and you got to have a place for it to go every day,” Hershner says.

Longer range, the city is undertaking a study to see if it might make sense to burn sludge and municipal garbage to create energy.

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