July 19, 2008

Union’s Discharges Feed Crops

By Doug Page Staff Writer

UNION -- John Applegate doesn't want any of Union ending up in the Stillwater River. Toward that end, the Union native and longtime city manager has been paring away at the city's discharges from its sewage treatment plant. From 1967 through the 1990s, the city bought up river bottom land. Initially, it was used for the city well fields as well as for crops. Eight to nine years ago, the city shifted from row crops to prairie grass. "We went to grass to bring back the wildlife," Applegate said this spring. Then, the grasses were barely ankle high, pushing their way through the flood silt. By July, the 60 acres of well field were hip high in grass. "The roots of these grasses are down 12, 13 feet surrounding our water wells," he said. The root system acts as a natural filter of pollutants. The city aggressively pursued more land, now controlling around 200 acres along the Stillwater, most in prairie grasses. It has eight fields in row crop on benches above the river's floodplain. Each of the fields has an in-ground irrigation system with 6-foot standpipes topped with a high-capacity sprinkler head. For the past 22 years, the city has been irrigating the fields with a musty, brown mist -- 99 percent water direct from the citizens of Union.

It's called high-quality effluent by regulators -- highly treated sewage.

"It is one of the most regulated and monitored" discharges, said Paul Novak, manager of the state Environmental Protection Agency's solid waste permits and compliance section. It's as clean as you can make sewage.

Rather than discharging into the river, Union puts it on crops.

"Right now, we have zero discharge (into the river) from the (treatment) plant about six months a year," Applegate said.

Each of the fields can take 23,000 gallons a day.

That has saved the city tens of thousands of dollars over the years.

Most cities must pay to have their sewage solids hauled to a landfill.

Eventually, Applegate sees the row crops replaced again by the prairie grasses.

"I used to swim in the river," Applegate said. "I used to fish in the river. It just makes sense to do it this way."

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2290 or [email protected]

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