Member Highlight

Biosolids on Vermont Farm

Treatment Plant Operator (TPO) ran a cover story about the Essex Junction WRRF biosolids program in December, 2015.

A visit to the farm was part of the first Vermont Water Quality Day on May 23, 2014.

May 2014

The Essex Junction, VT wastewater treatment facility has long been pushing sustainability with land application of liquid biosolids on a local farm. 

As demonstrated during Vermont's first "Water Quality Day" on May 23, 2014, the local wastewater biosolids (treated sewage sludge) are injected into the soil, making for a low-odor application and preserving the nitrogen content for the crops grown on this land.  The biosolids fertilize a multi-yearrotation of corn and alfalfa/grass hay that is fed to the farm's dairy herd.

Before application, the wastewater solids are anaerobically co-digested (with fats, oils, grease, food processing residuals, etc.), generating electricity that helps run the wastewater treatment plant.  The local farmer spends several days spring and fall hauling the liquid digested biosolids to feed his soils and crops.  Because the farm's dairy herd is mostly on land farther away, the home farm fields need these biosolids-derived nutrients and organic matter that, on many Vermont farms, are supplied by manures.

For Essex Junction, the local use of solids is less expensive than dewatering them and shipping them to landfill.  It saves energy for the facility and for the farmer.  And this win-win situation extends to the whole community.  The local farm is a key open area in the growing suburbia east of Burlington, and the farm's economics are supported, in part, by the biosolids land application program, helping ensure it continues to grow crops instead of houses.  The local resources - biosolids and the money needed to manage them– are both used locally, stimulating the local soils and economy, rather than being shipped elsewhere. 

Essex Junction is only one of a few communities in Vermont that are recycling their biosolids locally; others include Middlebury, Springfield, Stowe, Hartford/White River Junction, and - most recently, South Burlington.  But, in 2013, more than 80% of Vermont biosolids were disposed in landfills.  That number should change as other Burlington area facilities begin to truck biosolids to the new Casella Grasslands Facility in upstate New York later this year.  

On May 23rd, VT Water Quality Day participants learned what's involved in obtaining permits and managing the biosolids land application program at this Essex Junction farm.  The state Dept. of Environmental Conservation requires biosolids, soil, and groundwater testing, set-backs, prescribed application rates, and abutter notification (over 375 abutting landowners were notified during this farm's permitting process!).  This is the farm's fourth season using biosolids in recent years, although it also did so for several years a decade ago.