Where do you want it put?

In yesterday’s blog, I related the story of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley’s massive expenditure of public funds to “green up” his credentials to run for California governor. A story on page AA4 of today’s LA Times reminds me that some of that expenditure certainly was warranted.
A large part of LA’s expenditure was required to discontinue a decades-old practice of putting sludge from the Hyperion Wastewater Plant into the Pacific Ocean. Primary treated water was discharged near the sea floor about five miles off the shoreline. That practice is what I endorsed yesterday as being environmentally acceptable, in my view. But sludge was treated and then discharged in a deeper canyon about seven miles from shore. Discontinuing this latter practice made more sense to me, and I consider the expenditures for this action to be warranted.
But the Hyperion was left with the same quandary that all wastewater treatment facilities face: where do we put the sludge? There are only three alternatives: land, sea, and air. And I just ruled out sea.
Southern California is known for many things, good and bad. High among these is smog. Disposing of wastewater sludge into the air – following some form of combustion process – would face serious scrutiny by the air quality regulators. But that was the course selected during Mayor Bradley’s administration. And they received approval to do so. Unfortunately, after several years and several hundred million dollars, this approach failed. Only one option remained for sludge disposal: land.
For several years, the nearest available land disposal site has been in Kern County. According to the above article, 450,000 tons per year – about 125 tons per DAY – of sludge from Hyperion is trucked over 100 miles away to a 4,700 acre farm owned by LA. There it is mixed into the soil and is used to fertilize crops. Other than the massive fleet of trucks required to transport the sludge so far away, that’s not a bad option – unless you live in Kern County.
Several years ago, the California Water Environment Association – the organization for professionals in the wastewater industry – had this theme for their annual conference: “Where do you want it put?” The question remains to this day, and the three options are the same: land, sea, and air. Which would you choose?

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