Wastewater could benefit farmers

Published 2:19 pm Thursday, July 23, 2009

GATESVILLE — With advances within the treatment of wastewater, can it be filtered to the point of reuse for human consumption?

Some say that technology is close to becoming reality, but even if that time does arrive, who would be the first to try it?

While wastewater reuse for human consumption didn’t enter the course of conversation last week when Gates County officials discussed the potential of providing a public sanitary sewer system in one area of the county, there was dialogue concerning treated wastewater for use as a source of agricultural and landscape irrigation.

On July 13, the commissioners adopted, with a few minor revisions, a draft wastewater feasibility study following a workshop held with officials representing Cavanaugh & Associates. That Winston-Salem based firm was hired by the county, using funds from Golden LEAF, to conduct the study.

As reported in last week’s Gates County Index, it appears the commissioners are prepared to proceed with plans to begin with a core area – US 158 from just west of Eleanors Crossroads to just east of Easons Crossroads – for a public sanitary sewer system. That area has been targeted for commercial and residential growth. Plans are already underway for growth in one area directly across from the high school.

When the discussion turned towards the possible revenue streams for the proposed $1.91 million project, M. Steve Cavanaugh Jr. of Cavanaugh & Associates touted the presence of grants linked to wastewater reuse.

“It’s a big, big deal from a funding standpoint with projects involving reuse,” Cavanaugh said.

According to the study, the treated wastewater in Gates County’s case will not be discharged into a body of water. Rather, as it is in many instances in this part of the state, the treated wastewater is sprayed over irrigation fields where it is absorbed into the grass, trees and ground.

With that fact stated, the discussion turned towards the possibility of using that treated wastewater for agricultural crop and/or landscaping irrigation.

Cavanaugh said the treatment process removes pathogenic organisms from the wastewater, thus making it “clean and safe.” From there, the reuse quality wastewater is held in a finished water storage area from where it can be applied to an existing sprayfield or used for other possibilities, such as crop irrigation, landscape maintenance and athletic field irrigation.

Located within the core area of the proposed sanitary sewer system are possible agricultural reuse sites off Cotton Gin Road and Honey Pot Road. Additionally, treated wastewater can be used for landscaping purposes and/or athletic field irrigation at Gates County High School, Central Middle School, the Gates County Community Center and the proposed new commercial/residential development area in front of the high school.

According to Cavanaugh, North Carolina law prohibits irrigation of treated wastewater onto any crop that will be directly consumed by humans. He said the typical agricultural crops that can receive treated wastewater include corn, wheat, soybeans, rye grain and cotton. Additionally, pasture grasses consumed by farm animals can also be irrigated with treated wastewater.

Cavanaugh’s research noted that, on average, farmers spend from $1.50 to $3 per 1,000 gallons of water to irrigate crops.

“There are many farmers I know of that can’t irrigate their land because they have no source of water,” Gates County Commissioner Graham Twine said. “This (water reuse plan) gives the farmers a source of water.”

If the public sanitary system is put into place, it will possibly be sited at the 20-acre wastewater treatment facility currently owned and maintained by the Department of Corrections at its Gates County Prison. That prison is targeted for closure by the state. Gates County officials are exploring ways to take over that property should the prison close.