“Although the project has undergone many changes, the original basis of farmer involvement and honesty with the community still is the driving force behind its success.“
The program being nominated for the USEPA Public Acceptance Award (All Others) is the land application project operated by Parker Ag Services, LLC in Prowers County located in the Southeastern part of Colorado. The project was originally developed for land application of cake biosolids produced by New York City in support of the City’s efforts to cease ocean disposal.
Over the years the project has changed drastically and expanded to include other biosolids sources in order to meet the demand of the farmers involved in the program. Although the project has undergone many changes, the original basis of farmer involvement and honesty with the community still is the driving force behind its success.
The land application program in Prowers county is a unique program. It is the culmination of a number of ideas and practices that have been individually tried around the United States. What is unique to the area is the fact that no other biosolids sources or companies have land applied biosolids within 100 miles of the area. Therefore, the region was relatively free of any preconceived notions about land application. The only experience the community had with organic resource management was feedlot manure land application. So the discussions were very easy.
The program has had many changes throughout its existence. The current manifestation however is unusual. The land application program was shut down during the winter of 1993. However, during the winter of 1994 the farmers who had been receiving biosolids contacted Mr. Scharp requesting that he find new sources of biosolids for application on their sites.
There were few if any biosolids sources that could afford the transportation cost of biosolids to southeastern Colorado. However, New England Fertilizer Company (NEFCO) had some special circumstances that allowed for a small amount of pelletized biosolids from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) to be land applied in Prowers County.
Meeting Local Needs for Biosolids
Based upon the small amount of biosolids that NEFCO was able to provide the local farmers were willing to commit their land resources for other sources of biosolids. This allowed Parker Ag Services (PAS) in conjunction with other firms to bid on the one project that could cover the costs of biosolids transportation to Colorado: New York City’s long-term land application program.
Few individuals understand the nuances of the New York City land application effort and the public opposition it brings. Enviro-Gro Technologies, the firm that originally started the land application effort in Prowers County, had tried to permit land in about ten different states across the United States in support of the New York City beneficial reuse programs. The State of Colorado was the only state where Class B biosolids land application was openly accepted.
Many people will accept land application of biosolids on some level. However, if that source is New York City the concerns of everyone involved are raised exponentially. Most people have a perception that New York City is one of the worst places on earth – filled with garbage, filth and gangsters. New York City almost always congers up thoughts of contaminated biosolids that certainly cannot be land applied.
“The cornerstone of the success in Colorado was the ability to build upon relationships developed with the local farmers, the regulators involved and the elected officials at both the County and State level. “
Separating Fact from Fiction
Trying to separate fact from fiction was the challenge in trying to this program. The cornerstone of the success in Colorado was the ability to build upon relationships developed with the local farmers, the regulators involved and the elected officials at both the County and State level.
The land application program as implemented today receives on a daily basis between 150 and 200 wet tons per day, seven days per week, at a rail siting located 10 miles east of Lamar, CO. All of the permitted application sites are located within Prowers County. The haul distances from the siding range from ½ mile to 40 miles.
Approximately 40,000 acres of land is permitted for biosolids from three different sources on the East Coast. They include dewatered Class B cake biosolids from New York City, dewatered Class B biosolids from Bergen County Utilities Authority and Class A pelletized biosolids from NEFCO in Boston.
Still, with only a small amount of available biosolids relative to the local demand only a tiny fraction of the potential land base has been developed.
Biosolids are land applied on a variety of sites and crops including Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), rangeland, sand dunes, irrigated alfalfa, irrigated corn and dryland winter wheat. However, the dryland winter wheat accounts for more than 75% of the permitted application sites and gives the program one of its greatest flexibility’s.
Prowers County is predominately dryland farming, because it receives only about 14 inches of rainfall per year. Therefore, unlike many other farming areas of the United States which experience much greater rainfall, every other year a field is left fallow (no crops are grown on the site). This is done in order to build up soil moisture so that a crop can be grown.
Typically the winter wheat is planted in September and it germinates in the fall. It goes dormant during the winter and then begins growing during the spring of the following year. The wheat matures during June and is typically harvested in July or August. The field is then left fallow until the following September before another crop of winter wheat is planted.
The fallow rotation system provides that any given acre is not cropped for fourteen out of twenty four months which allows unusual access to the site as compared to farming in the rest of the United States. During the fallow period either the land is tilled with special equipment to control weeds or herbicide is used to keep the weeds in control so they do not use the moisture that is being built up for the winter wheat.
“A unique and forward-thinking aspect of this land application program has been the involvement of the local health department, in monitoring and providing oversight.”
Forward Thinking with Local Focus
A unique and forward-thinking aspect of this land application program has been the involvement of the local health department, in monitoring and providing oversight. This relationship was encouraged from the initiation of the program. Many years ago it was recognized that the local government had to be involved in the land application process. This also provided a great opportunity for proof to the local citizens that the program is being operated properly.
This local oversight may be considered a forerunner to the currently contemplated Biosolids Management System (BMS) and third party verification program.
Many individuals do not trust the State of Federal Government to regulate biosolids. However, when these same people understand that their local health official are involved in independently reviewing the program and continuously verifying that the program is being operated correctly; then they will accept it.
The ability to have control as near as to the project as possible is important because when there is an issue everyone wants somebody to be able to respond that day not in two or three weeks as may be the case of State and Federal regulators.