A "Down Under" Perspective

By. John Powell. Resource Recovery Management Pty Ltd, Australia

On a recent trip to the USA, I was fortunate to visit the Boise biosolids reuse facility in Idaho.  I manage a biosolids reuse program for Resource Recovery Management Pty Ltd in South East Queensland, Australia. We receive roughly 40,000 Tonnes of treated sludge per year, which is similar to the Boise facility. Geography and climate make it impossible to compare the two operations, I will attempt to compare and discuss some of the key aspects. My visit was facilitated by Tressa Nicholas DEQ Idaho and we were given an extensive tour of the Twenty Mile South Farm (TMSF) biosolids application site by Ben Nydegger, the Biosolids Program Manager.

Standing at Boise Biosolids

Our reuse program in Queensland is based around Beaudesert, which has historically been and agricultural area, but in recent years because of its close proximity to the state capital Brisbane, is becoming more urban. We subcontract to the principle biosolids contractor and take roughly 15% of the total southeast Queensland biosolids production. The benefit of our location is freight distance. We are within 60 miles of most of the treatment plants we service, whereas the bulk of the local biosolids is transported up to 155 miles to find suitable land for reuse. The Boise farm is 20 miles from the treatment plant. This makes for a very efficient transport operation.  Having the forethought to secure such a site is not something you often see from government at any level. 

Having relatively small land holdings in SEQ, we have to move to new farms on a regular basis. This of course requires construction of new infrastructure such as access roads and containment bunds, or storage areas for biosolids. The Boise facility being permanent removes these duplication costs making it extremely efficient. The TMSF conducts  plant tissue analysis to measure nutrient removal, in addition to regular soil analysis combined with ground water testing ensures the facility remains environmentally sustainable.  Some groundwater N & P levels are now below those measured prior to the commencement of the biosolids operations. Being able to rotate cash crops for a local market is obviously one of the keys to the financial success of this facility. With Boise having little heavy industry the contaminant levels in the local biosolids is very low, whereas this type of permanent facility may not be feasible using sludge from many industrial areas.  The high quality of Boise biosolids coming from the treatment plant is a major contributor to the ongoing success of the facility.

Having to constantly move farms and develop new environmental management plans I am somewhat jealous of Ben and his great facility but, unfortunately it would not work for us here. What we could and should try to replicate here, is the public information and public acceptance of biosolids reuse which Idaho and Boise have been able to achieve through information and education. One of our key local issues is lack public acceptance; this is of course based on perception rather than facts. The other aspect of my Boise visit which impressed me was the level of co-operation between the biosolids reuse facility and the regulatory authority. Having a regulator, who whilst maintaining the highest levels of environmental compliance that can relate to and work with those on the ground is something we rarely see here. Based on what I witnessed in Boise this is something which is working extremely well.

Lastly I would like to thank Sally Brown, University of Washington, for connecting me with Boise. Of course Tressa Nicholas DEQ Idaho and Ben Nydegger, the Biosolids Program Manager.