Amazing Wastewater-to-Fertilizer Innovation!

Phosphorus is essential for plant growth.  It becomes a nutrient in our food, then part of our waste.  As the global demand for food rises, the demand for phosphorus rises as well.  The problem is that it’s also a non-renewable resource. The majority of the phosphorus used for agriculture is derived by mining phosphate rock.

Durham Advanced Wastewater Treatment  is a state-of-the-art facility that recovers phosphorus from household/human waste to make inorganic (ie mineral) fertilizer pellets.   This is remarkable because most wastewater treatment plants just dispose of phosphorus.  Disposal increases the demand for mined phosphorus, which will eventually run out.  In fact, current global reserves may be depleted in 50  to 100 years!

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Durham developed its nutrient recovery process after being the target of a lawsuit.   In 1988, Oregon tightened its standards for the amount of phosphorus allowed in the Tualatin River from 2000 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.  Durham’s discharge into the Tualatin did not meet these standards, so students from Lewis & Clark Law School found millions of dollars in Clean Water Act  violations.   Durham resolved the problem, becoming the “first facility in the U.S. to recover  fertilizer from  a natural byproduct of wastewater treatment.”

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Because it’s a licensed fertilizer producer, Durham is one of the few water treatment municipalities that actually earns a profit.  The recovery technology developed by Ostara is patented, but the patent only costs $1.  Today, Durham welcomes visitors from around the world to tour the facility and implement the technology elsewhere.  Enjoy the photos from my tour!

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Nestle’s Attempt to Tap Into Oregon Spring Water

Many companies in the bottled water industry just bottle purified tap water.  On the theory that consumers will pay more  for bottled spring water, Nestle’ is trying to buy spring water generated by Oxbow Springs in Cascade Locks, Oregon.   Water from Oxbow Springs flows into the Columbia River Gorge (by way of Herman Creek) and provides a habitat for a variety of salmonid species.   This spring, shown below, is special because it provides one of the coldest and largest thermal refuges for fish.

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In Nestle’s proposed plan, Nestle’ would pay the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to take some of the spring water and replace it with an equivalent amount of city well water.   The two photos below are of the Oxbow Fish Hatchery, which currently uses water from Oxbow Springs.::::::::::

A few additional consequences of this proposed exchange: Nestle’ will need to build a spring water extracting and bottling plant;  there will be over 210 Nestle’ truck trips per day through local roads of Cascade Locks;  Nestle’ will profit from selling the city’s spring water and ODFW will make a fraction of a penny per gallon of water sold.  Food & Water Watch asks, “How much money will Nestle’ make from bottling the community’s water and how much does this compare to what the company is offering Cascade Locks?”  Sierra Club and Columbia Riverkeeper are also keeping a close eye on Nestle’.  Below are a few shots from the spring head.   The next photos depict the spring water flowing into the fish hatchery.

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A few years ago, Nestle’ attempted to make a similar deal with the town of McCloud, CA to extract spring water from  Mt. Shasta.  Californians took Nestle’ to court and after five years of local opposition, Nestle’ withdrew its proposal.  It ended up bottling water from the Sacramento public water supply.

Megan Summerour shot the four photos below, which depict Mt. Shasta and its surrounding waters.  Thanks Megan!

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Click here to sign the Food & Water Watch petition to keep Nestle’ out of the Gorge.

Check out this pretty cool blog dedicated to keeping Nestle’ out of the Gorge.

Landfill Caps

In 1957, long before Oregon had a solid waste permitting program, the Grabhorn family started accepting other people’s trash on their property in Beaverton, Oregon.  An unregulated landfill was born.

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In 1972, Lakeside Reclamation Landfill (the Grabhorn landfill) received a permit to accept construction/ demolition debris.  There is also active composting operation on the property shown above.  Over the years, Lakeside violated this permit by accepting things like motor oil and chromium-treated animal hides.  Because the landfill started before the days of modern environmental regulation, it does not contain modern linings and caps.  To make matters worse, the landfill abuts the Tualatin River.  DEQ reports show that the landfill discharges leachate that contaminates the surrounding groundwater.

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Take a look at this Oregonian opinion piece and DEQ press release to learn how the state  and community are handling the environmental enforcement issues.  It makes for a heated discussion to say the least.

 I had a chance to visit the landfill in March of 2010. I went on behalf of PEAC with two environmental consultants.  The purpose of our trip was to learn more about the landfill’s current cap system and how to fix it.

My old professor refers to the landfill as a giant teabag of trash.  Whenever it rains, the rain water enters the inside of the landfill creating leachate, or trash tea.  This leachate, which contains carcinogens like tetrahydrofuran, benzene and arsenic, then flows directly into the groundwater because there is no protective lining.

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My photos depict the landfill’s current evapotranspirative (ET) cap, which is basically a bunch of deciduous trees planted above the covered dump.  In theory, the trees’ large leaves and roots are supposed to absorb most of the rain water before it even reaches the trash.  Unfortunately, these trees look sickly because they are planted on top of decomposing waste; and they have no leaves because it’s cold outside.  Naturally in the Pacific Northwest, ET caps are not enough to control landfill leachate because the trees are barren during the wet season. Possible fixes include an impermeable cap, a lining and landfill gas flares.  Check out this EPA fact sheet for more information on ET caps.