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By Jay Thorwaldson

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About this blog: I was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly from June 2000 to January 2011, capping a more than 50-year career in journalism and writing since Los Gatos High School, where I was editor of the student newspaper and president of the speech...  (More)

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On Deadline: Palo Alto's baylands debate could continue for years, folks

Uploaded: Nov 18, 2011
The future of Palo Alto's vast baylands -- a mix of marshlands, open water, mud and hiking/walking/running trails -- has been debated for decades.

The nearly two-thirds victory of Measure E supporters in early November won't change that dynamic.

Take a deep breath: The debate will continue for years to come, not "months" as surmised in one news article about the vote.

A key element of the debate right now is what the "voter mandate" means.

Was it an approval of a significant composting and energy-generation operation in a low-profile facility that would be partially below grade (with trucks and heavy equipment and their back-up beeps)?

Or is it a mandate only to allow "more study" of whether the 10 acres at issue, directly adjacent to the city's wastewater-treatment plant on the southeast side, could be used for a combination composting and anaerobic digestion facility that would generate electricity.

The digesters would convert yard waste and plant materials mixed with sludge from the adjacent Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant, at the end of Embarcadero Road, into methane-gas-generated electricity. The plant, built in 1970, deals with sewage from Palo Alto, Stanford, Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Mountain View and East Palo Alto.

The sewage sludge presently is incinerated and reduced to ash, which concentrates the components, including some heavy metals, to a degree that the ash becomes classified as hazardous waste, requiring transportation to a hazardous-waste-treatment facility north of Las Vegas. In the late 1970s, it was discovered that the ash pile had in it more gold and silver than the average small gold mine, and the city leased rights to "mine" it (using a complex chemical-extraction process).

It seemed ironic that well-to-do Palo Alto had a gold/silver-laden pile of sewage-ash. But the mini-gold/silver rush is now over. The silver was mainly from the Kodak film-processing operation in Palo Alto's Stanford Research Park, and the gold was mainly from the coating of computer components. Kodak shut down its plant, much of the computer-component manufacturing left town (or the country) and methods improved to recapture the gold before it hit the sewers.

As for the new "mandate," the "more study" interpretation should be a cinch. Palo Alto has a tradition of "more study." It goes back at least as far as the decades-long debate over the baylands. It's one thing that the community and city government -- and school district, too, for that matter -- truly excel at doing.

What's missing in this vote (as is usual in any this-or-that election) is a base of accurate, complete information on which the struggling voter or city official (or journalist) can rely. It is the nature of campaigns to generate oversimplified slogans, and cast aspersions on the opposing side. "Aspersions" is a fancy term for slinging mud and calling names, using guilt by innuendo or guilt by association with campaign contributors.

But hey, as a voter being asked to make a judgment on a complex matter, don't BOTH SIDES owe me some measure of truth-telling? Or must we continue the tradition of being fed deceptive, misleading half-truths engineered to evoke a gut-level emotional response rather than a cool intellectual judgment? The local campaign was a pale reflection of the crisis at the national and state levels, a polarization that poisons trust and undermines the political process.

No wonder our democracy is in trouble. The voter turnout was below 30 percent of Palo Alto registered voters, much less if one counted those eligible to vote who aren't registered.

It wasn't as if efforts weren't made to find a collaborative solution, a different site for a composting/power generation operation that wouldn't require taking even 10 acres of dedicated parkland away from the hundreds of acres of baylands park and preserves. But a special panel of citizens -- including Measure E opponent Emily Renzel -- failed to find an acceptable alternative site.

Renzel and longtime friend and mentor Enid Pearson, both former City Council members, opposed any undedication with the same dedication they have each shown for decades in preserving the baylands and slowing growth. Part of their concern was that undedicating the 10 acres would set a precedent for some other project deemed worthy enough to sacrifice dedicated land elsewhere.

Some history may help explain their tenacity.

Dedicating parklands was a hard-fought battle in the early 1960s, when City Council members showed a receptiveness to ideas to use city parks and open spaces for building projects. Pearson and others pleaded with the council to dedicate parks. After being rebuffed, somewhat rudely, Pearson and other "residentialists" mounted an initiative-petition effort that resulted in the city's park-dedication ordinance of 1965 -- still in effect as a powerful deterrent.

The election swept Pearson onto the City Council, along with former state Senator Byron Sher, creating a deeply split council comprised of six "residentialists" vs. seven "establishment" candidates that severely crippled local government. The situation led to a bitter all-council election in 1967, scars of which still linger.

Today both Pearson and Renzel have preserves named for them, Pearson in the lower foothills and Renzel in the baylands. But they haven't forgotten those hard and angry days of yore. And they seem convinced that any compromise will weaken the dedication policy by creating a "camel's nose" exception. The concern seems to be that giving a inch will lead to losing a mile someday.

But in this case, other issues came into play. In addition to having to truck hazardous waste to Nevada at a cost of about $300,000 a year, there is the cost of natural gas used to incinerate the sludge, and its "greenhouse gas" emissions, reported as more than $200,000. If anaerobic digestion could produce methane gas to power generators, it could supply the power needs of the entire treatment plant plus some homes and businesses, perhaps.

A proposed private school, the Girls Middle School, was relocated recently from a site near the treatment plant to west of Highway 101 due to concerns about potential health risks to the students and about several hundred parents calling the city to report every smell from the plant.

No one is sure yet about precisely how much savings or electricity could result. Thus the need for "more study."

And during the study time opponents to Measure E will also be at work studying potential rear-guard actions to prevent anything from happening, so the land would go back to parkland in 10 years.

Note: Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com and jaythor@well.com.

Comments

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of ,
on Nov 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Jay

If you perceived you were not being told the truth, why didn't you be a newspaperman and do some factchecking? It would have helped the community immensely.

What the Weekly did front as "factchecking" before the election amounted to a only a reality-journalism style he-says she-says gossip piece.


Posted by Weekly appeasement, a resident of ,
on Nov 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm

The weekly did not do any fact checking because they were afraid to upset drekmeier and his vocal acolytes. We know that the weekly never does any deep, investigative pieces--those kind of stories could upset people.


Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Nov 19, 2011 at 9:48 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Dear Appeasement: I don't know what newspaper you've been reading, but the Weekly did a good job of ferreting out the issues in the coverage I saw. But my point on "telling the truth" in campaigns was a general one, having covered election campaigns at all levels for decades. It's a common pattern, with well-paid campaign consultants designing the half-truth slogans in the higher-level campaigns. And the Weekly isn't afraid of Peter, either, by the way. -jay


Posted by George, a resident of ,
on Nov 19, 2011 at 10:06 am

Measure E proponents pulled a bait and switch. They said that Measure E would only undedicate the land to make it available so the city could do more analysis of alternatives. Now they are saying that the vote was a mandate to build.

How can voters even know if there is a viable project if the technology, cost, and environmental impacts are not known? CEQA requires that the no project alternative be analyzed, so Measure E proponents don't have the legal or moral right to take that off the table.

How much will the composting facility cost and how does that compare across alternatives? How viable are the various technologies? What are the financial risks if the unproven technologies fail to generate projected revenues? What are the environmental impacts of constructing the facility? What are the impacts on greenhouse gasses of the various alternatives? The feasibility studies conducted by the City haven't pointed to a winner, despite claims from some who cite single data points (i.e. it will generate revenue to pay for itself ignoring the fact that it's never been done).

These are real questions that have not been answered to the degree required to make an intelligent decision between alternatives. The Measure E proponents now saying they have a plan and it's time to move ahead are simply acting with tunnel vision. Their worldview does not include reponsible stewardship of the best interest of the residents, businesses, workers, or the environment in Palo Alto!


Posted by weekly appeasement, a resident of ,
on Nov 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Jay--I will stand by my comments--the Weekly has never been about real investigative reporting. It is a for profit business that has to make money from advertising revenue (which is what the majority of your "newspaper" is--page after of page of ads), Upsetting advertisers will drive away ad revenue. Upsetting the high and mighty in the community would be bad for business. Also remember that your criticism is biased--you are the former editor and obviously see your paper as a great beacon of truth in our community--hardly in reality--there was no "ferreting out" of anything- just like you did not "ferret out" the truth about the Utilities scandal, the PACT scandal, the payout to Enron scandal, the financial scandals or the HSR scandal. Your newspaper makes good kitty litter liner, though


Posted by musical, a resident of ,
on Nov 20, 2011 at 11:52 am

"... the land would go back to parkland in 10 years" sounds kinda vague. Can we assume November 8, 2021 (a Monday) is a hard deadline? Or do we expect alot of waffling as that date approaches?


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 20, 2011 at 1:36 pm

"The digesters would convert yard waste and plant materials mixed with sludge from the adjacent Regional Wastewater Treatment"

Jay, you could have asked the simple question: What will happen to this mixture? Neither you nor the Weekly bothered to ask this question about such a fundamental issue.


Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Nov 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Craig, I believe this was covered in the Weekly's reporting on the plan (I'll check), but here's my understanding of how the end product would be used. Digested materials make a high-nitrogen type of fertilizer, or "soil amendment" in modern usage.

It would be available for local use for non-food-growing areas. The concern is primarily about trace pesticides from yard trimmings and a very low level of heavy metals and substances from the sewage sludge. (When incinerated to ash, the heavy metals concentrate to the "hazardous materials" level, but after digestion the concentrations are supposed to be well below the level of any concern, for non-food areas.)

The amount of material from the Palo Alto operation would be relatively small in terms of local demand, and revenue from the product would be an inconsequential amount in terms of the overall budget for the operation.

I hope this answers your question. -jay


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Jay,

Thank you for addressing the issue. As far as I know, this is the first time there has been a serious answer from the Weekly (but please let me know if I missed it).

The essential issue is that the organic gardening/farming community is rejected human sewage sludge based 'compost'. It is not the "yuck" factor, as some have stated, but it is the issue of gradual toxic accumulation, due to the sewage sludge. Pesticides and heavy metals are only one small part of the issue...there are many other toxins that go down the drain...thus into the sludge.

When you speak about "non-food-growing" crops, you are basically talking about livestock feed crops, and some of the txoins enter the food stream indirectly (e.g. milk, meat). Personally, I don't think it is a big issue, but what I think is not important. The important thing is what the sensitive organic food consumer thinks. Kern County, for example, has decided to disallow anymore dumping of sewage sludge-based compost on their farmlands.

The entire issue of human sewage sludge disposal is focused on sludge disposal, not compost or soil enhancement...something needs to happen to the stuff! Compost is a cover story.

The bottom line question is: What happens to the stuff, if it is rejected by the public, at large(as is starting to happen)? Palo Alto would then be stuck with the stuff, and we may need to pay a huge amount of money to get rid of it, possibly in a toxic waste dump. This could make incineratin look cheap, in comparison. The proponents of "E" have refused to address this issue.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

Regards,

Craig


Posted by pat, a resident of ,
on Nov 23, 2011 at 10:20 am

Craig, thanks for all that essential information, obviously disregarded by the E proponents.

Interesting article from the Chronicle: S.F. food-scrap collecting to hit milestone
Web Link


Posted by Bob, a resident of ,
on Nov 24, 2011 at 10:50 am

Compo$t-$lude "compo$ting"? Sounds so 'green and patriotic". THINK H$R, THINK
Mitchell Park, think PA bond i$$ues, think 101 overpa$$$. Before you vote for something next time, THINK!!! And be sure YOU are around long enough to have to pay for it.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm

"The amount of material from the Palo Alto operation would be relatively small in terms of local demand"

Jay, I'm not too sure how to understand your statement. If the demand is low, the supply will be high. What is the local demand? The proponents of "E" made vague statments about local truck farmers using the sewage sludge for their food crops. You, correctly, have eliminated that useage as a source of demand. That leaves what? Parks and golf courses in Palo Alto? If so, good luck trying to get the stuff spread on our public lawns...the very sensitive, anti-toxics folks will get VERY upset about that!

Jay, please give me your best guess as to where the stuff will go.

Regards,

Craig


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of ,
on Nov 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The question are what will happen with solid residues (digestate) left-over from digesting sewage, and what are the costs.

Typically, sewage treatment plants either send their digestate to a landfill, or they send it off to be composted elsewhere, or they compost it themselves. The city's study estimated that the cost of sending the digestate "away" to be composted elsewhere is just over $1.1 Million annually ($500K to Haul it, $600K to have someone else compost it) (reference 1). Costs of sending it to a landfill are comparable (reference 3).

In comparison, local composting of digestate is given by the study as a cost lumped in with a bunch of other miscellaneous costs (namely, "Other (Equip. Leasing, Compost Treatment, Mgt. Fee, Admin., Ins.)"), and it is treated as a total cost for all organics that could be digested, so not just sewage but food and yard wastes as well. That cost is given as $770 Thousand annually (reference 2). So the cost of only composting the sewage digestate alone is a fraction of that cost. Let's allocate a huge 80% of that combo-cost to just sewage digestate composting, so say it's $600K, the same as having someone else compost it (By the way, this is proportional to the city's current cost of composting our yard waste for less than $500K (reference 3), for a slightly smaller amount of material).

So local composting could save on the order of $500K/year.

An interesting case I came upon recently was the City of Santa Rosa. They too digest their sewage, and some years ago they hedged their bets: one third of the digestate they sent to the landfill, the second third to direct land application, and the last third to local composting, in a modern, covered facility. Several years later, they now want to expand their composting operation and redirect the formerly-landfilled digestate to composting instead. Composting was the winner in their real-life experiment, so it is reasonable to suggest that it could be a winner for Palo Alto as well.

References:
1: Web Link, sheet "Inputs", cells H175 & H176
2: Web Link, sheet "Inputs", cell F146
3: Conversations with City Staff


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Cedric,

The organic community is, increasingly, rejecting sewage sludge. Your assumptions are based on outmoded assumptions. Just answer this simple question: Where, specifically, will the local sewage sludge 'compost' be delivered, and who will accept the liability of accepting it...and at what cost?


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Given that I try to eat local and organic as much as possible, I wish I could say that rejection of sewage-derived compost by the organic farming community would present a problem. However, within a 100 miles the percentage of organic farms is about 0.5%, leaving 99.5% as non-organic and able to accept such compost.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm

" within a 100 miles the percentage of organic farms is about 0.5%, leaving 99.5% as non-organic and able to accept such compost."

Cedric, I think you are missing the point. Human sewage sludge/compost may well become banned from all food crops. Kern county has already voted to ban it from all farmlands, including non-food crops. This presents the essential question: What will Palo Alto do with the stuff, if we cannot get rid of it? Who will accept the liability, and who will pay for it (the trucking costs and the liability and disposal), and how much will it cost us?


Posted by svatoid, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm

"What will Palo Alto do with the stuff, if we cannot get rid of it? Who will accept the liability, and who will pay for it (the trucking costs and the liability and disposal), and how much will it cost us?"
Money is no object to the "green" zealots--especially when it is not their own and they never had to work for it.

"So local composting could save on the order of $500K/year."
Has a study been doen to suggest this number is correct or is this more of the "math" that Cedric is known for.

So according to Cedric, non-organic farmers will gladly accept our compost. Has he done any research to see if there is a demand for his compost???


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

'Has a study been doen to suggest this number is correct...'
I provided references from the city's feasibility study. Not my fault if you can't be bothered to check them.

'...or is this more of the "math" that Cedric is known for.'
or is this more insults that svatoid is known for? apparently yes.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Cedric, I would like to keep you on point. Are you suggesting that row crop farms will accept sewage sludge/compost from Palo Alto, having been burned by the E. coli disaster of a couple of years ago? Please be specific about exactly who will be willing to take the stuff off our hands.


Posted by poor cedric, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 6:11 pm

"or is this more insults that svatoid is known for? apparently yes."

Is the big bad bully bothering Cedric again (or in other words daring to question anything he posts?).
Svatoid asked some questions--Cedric got upset and lashed out again.
The important question that svatoid and craig asked is about whether farmers will actually accept the compost. Cedric ducks that question.

Poor Cedric.


Posted by A concerned citizen, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Cedric--answer the question regarding who will accept our compost. Which farmers? Where are they? Stop being so defensive and thin-skinned. If you cannot accept criticism, then do not post what you call facts on this forum. Grow up-eat some meat.


Posted by bill g, a resident of ,
on Nov 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm

The blog from "George" of Crescent Park above of 19 Nov. 10:06 PM says it all. Until all the questions he asked are addressed, we won't know whether this could be a viable (profitable) operation.

Additional considerations are: will Palo Alto supply enough waste? Will other cities contribute? Will similar operations in other cities start up and be competition?


Posted by svatoid, a resident of ,
on Nov 26, 2011 at 12:33 pm

"I provided references from the city's feasibility study. "

Well if you click on the two links that Cedric provided you download the same Excel spreadsheets, but do not see where the $500K number comes from. Oh wait, does that reference that Cedric provides for that number is "conversations with city staff"? Okay.

Anyway, why was any feasibility study done already? I though we were voting and then a feasibility study would be done.
Oh well it is only money and we know how some people have no qualms about spending other peoples money.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of ,
on Nov 26, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

svatoid, I provided the links (to the same document) and the tab in the document, and which cells in the spreadsheet. I can't make it any easier for you: $500K comes from: "Digestate Hauling (Including 10% O&M Contingency)" $493,636 (Reference 1: Web Link, sheet "Inputs", cell H175)


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of ,
on Nov 26, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@George and Bill and a few others:
The city recently completed an Economic and Green House Gas (GHG) Feasibility Study, authored by experts in the field. The Study compared costs of alternatives, including a 30% cost inflator on the one untested alternative (Dry AD for sewage). Costs and GHG were considered for financing, construction, operation and maintenance over 20 years.

Measure E made the land exclusively available for the city to convert its organic waste into energy and/or compost. The city has been, and continues to be clear that they will further study viable options and get firmer bids before choosing a solution, and perform necessary engineering and environmental analysis before approval and construction. The Measure E campaign team supports the city in this process, as we too seek the best solution for the city: an economically and environmentally responsible means of handling our organic wastes.

Some have asked here what are the markets for compost derived from sewage. When I have a burning question like that, I turn to research and look for answers, so you could do the same. I'm a little busy at the moment to do this research for you. However, I will point out what I pointed out before, that the City of Santa Rosa must have a viable market for its compost, or it would not be in the process of diverting biosolids from the landfill to an expanded composting program. Further, Palo Alto's Feasibility Study included costs of composting versus costs of exporting biosolids, and those were the costs I quoted above, to conclude that local composting is cheaper then hauling it off and paying someone else to compost it. I can't find the emails right now, but my recollection is that when I asked the consultants about the value of sewage compost, I was informed that the assumption is that the sale of that compost would cover its distributing cost, and therefore net zero (in contrast to the net positive value assigned to sewage-free compost sales).

Bill G. asked about inputs and competition. The Studies so far have based their costs on the sewage which is already a regional input from Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Stanford, Mountain View and Los Altos, and food and yard from Palo Alto only. It has been suggested that Palo Alto should consider accepting food waste from other communities, to further increase or energy output. If this is viable, I would support it, as we as a region need to get as much food out of landfills as possible. I think most communities don't have space to build a competing facility. Even San Jose's proposed Dry AD plant to handle food waste, which would be larger than Palo Alto's, would not have enough capacity to handle all of the County's food wastes.

As for the general question of use of sewage-derived compost, here is support for the notion, from my research:

Web Link:
"biosolids" is defined as the "nutrient-rich, organic byproduct of the nation's wastewater treatment process."

"European legislation on dangerous substances has eliminated the production and marketing of some substances that have been of historic concern such as persistent organic micropollutants. The European Commission has said repeatedly that the "Directive on the protection of the environment, and in particular of the soil, when sewage sludge is used in agriculture" (86/278/EEC) has been very successful in that there have been no cases of adverse effect where it has been applied. The EC encourages the use of sewage sludge in agriculture because it conserves organic matter and completes nutrient cycles. Recycling of phosphate is regarded as especially important because the phosphate industry predicts that at the current rate of extraction the economic reserves will be exhausted in 100 or at most 250 years."


Posted by common sense, a resident of ,
on Nov 26, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Many unanswered questions from Cedric:

- who will take the contaminated compost with sewage sludge?

- how much will the refuse rates need to increase to fund building a $100 - $200 million compost factory?

- changes that Palo Alto made for building "green" is reducing the generation of compost material and how does this reduction affect the financials?

Most revealing is Cedric's view on compost contaminated with sewage sludge: "Given that I try to eat local and organic as much as possible, I wish I could say that rejection of sewage-derived compost by the organic farming community would present a problem. However, within a 100 miles the percentage of organic farms is about 0.5%, leaving 99.5% as non-organic and able to accept such compost."

In other words, "it's okay to contaminate the food chain of food that I don't eat".






Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm

" I can't find the emails right now, but my recollection is that when I asked the consultants about the value of sewage compost, I was informed that the assumption is that the sale of that compost would cover its distributing cost, and therefore net zero"

Cedric, please try to find those emails, and reveal them to all of us. Specifically, who would buy the stuff, if it is perceived to be a liability? Name one farmer who would want this stuff on his/her land. I doubt that you can, in this day and age. Therefore, it is NOT a net zero...it is a cost, possibly a huge cost to Palo Alto. You need to put that negative value into your Excel file field.


Posted by a concernwd citizen, a resident of ,
on Nov 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Your claim that the city will save 500k ia basedon the haulage cost?but it may not save us anything, right? What about the cost to haul the sludge to thw farmers? BTW, youhave still not told us which farmers will take it.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of ,
on Nov 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

I'm not the city, I'm only sharing what I have learned from my engagement in this process. You can address your specific questions to the city itself. But here's information on Santa Rosa's market for biosolids compost. I'm sure they would be happy to answer your questions.

Web Link:

Biosolids Beneficial Reuse Program
Committed to responsible, economical reuse

Before the Biosolids Beneficial Reuse Program was introduced at the Laguna Treatment Plant in 1985, all the solids that passed through the plant went to the Sonoma County landfill. By 1997, only a third of the biosolid material was sent to landfill; the remaining two-thirds were used in land application as fertilizer or turned into marketable compost. Currently, with stepped up land application and composting programs, only twenty percent of the biosolids reach the landfill.

In land application (or land spread), a total of 11,000 wet tons of highly treated biosolids are trucked to local farms each year where it is used as fertilizer or soil amendment on fodder crops (i.e., animal feed and fiber crops). Land application is the most economical use of biosolids. It increases crop yields for the farmers, reduces disposal costs for the City, and conserves landfill space. However, public perception and changing government regulations could prevent land spread in the future, or make it prohibitively expensive.


Turning biosolids into compost is a more involved and expensive process than land application, but the end product is marketable and its use is approved by the EPA for gardening as well as landscape application in places such as parks, schools, and golf courses. As part of the composting process, yard or green waste collected curbside by area refuse companies is used as a bulking agent. About one part biosolids is blended with four parts green waste. Treatment and processing takes about two weeks and then the product is cured for at least another 30 days. The Laguna Composting Facility produces 20,000 cubic yards of compost each year, most of which is sold on the bulk market.

A byproduct of treating and processing biosolids is methane gas. At the Laguna Treatment Plant, this gas is used to generate about thirty percent of the energy needed to run the plant.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 27, 2011 at 10:35 am

" However, public perception and changing government regulations could prevent land spread in the future, or make it prohibitively expensive"

Cedric, this quote is from your own post. If the sewage sludge is bulked up with yard clippings, it is still based on sewage sludge, and this "compost" is also starting to be rejected by the organics purists.

The most conservative cost projections of the anaerobic digestion model should assume that none of the digestate will be able to be disposed of for free. The cost projections should include the cost of having to pay for disposal, including trucking, landfill and (possible) liability. These cost projections needs to be compared to the current costs of incineration.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of ,
on Nov 27, 2011 at 6:12 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Craig, your selective quoting leaves out the very next sentence which contradicts your assertion:

"Turning biosolids into compost is a more involved and expensive process than land application, but the end product is marketable and its use is approved by the EPA for gardening as well as landscape application in places such as parks, schools, and golf courses."

The key phrase, from actual current experience of a nearby city: "...the end product is marketable..."

Palo Alto, the EPA and the European Union all have the right approach and successes in eliminating pollutants at the source. This enables nutrient recycling which is key to sustainability. "European legislation on dangerous substances has eliminated the production and marketing of some substances that have been of historic concern such as persistent organic micropollutants. The European Commission has said repeatedly that the "Directive on the protection of the environment, and in particular of the soil, when sewage sludge is used in agriculture" (86/278/EEC) has been very successful in that there have been no cases of adverse effect where it has been applied. The EC encourages the use of sewage sludge in agriculture because it conserves organic matter and completes nutrient cycles. Recycling of phosphate is regarded as especially important because the phosphate industry predicts that at the current rate of extraction the economic reserves will be exhausted in 100 or at most 250 years."


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Nov 27, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Cedric, you fail to acknowledge that that the organics purists are protesting against the "marketable" stuff you are pushing. I have listed such protests, previously, and you are aware of it. I can list them again, if you wish.

The EPA and European agencies have colluded to get rid of sewage sludge, including holding a naming contest to give human sewage sludge another name (the winner was "biosolids"). The truly organic groups are protesting! The seriously minded proponents of "E" should be willing to run the cost numbers, with the assumption that there is no market for human sewage sludge, period.

Cedric, please run your numbers again, with the assumption that human sewage sludge has no market, and that it is a liability to our city of Palo Alto. Please compare and contrast your bottom line number with the current cost of incineration.


Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Nov 28, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

I hereby amend the headline of my blog, way up at the top: "The debate over sewage sludge could go on for years!" ;-)> Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, by the way. -jay


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