Human waste ‘backlog’ from Red Deer to be spread on farmers’ fields this spring

Council approved $1 million to compensate for loss of crops

To keep Red Deer’s full sewage lagoons from overflowing, people poop needs to be spread on Central Alberta farmer’s fields this spring and summer.

This means city council had to approve $1 million over two years on Monday to compensate area farmers who will put some of their land out of crop rotation to accommodate treated regional solid wastes — which happen to be high in soil nutrients.

It’s a unique problem that Red Deer city council had to “flush out” at Monday’s budget meeting, according to punster, Coun. Ken Johnston.

Council heard that Red Deer’s sewage lagoons — the size of about six football fields — are getting very full because of an increase in collected waste from the region. Solid and liquid waste from Sylvan Lake, Olds and Bowden are now being treated in Red Deer, while Blackfalds and Lacombe waste is coming into the city for treatment this year.

It’s not unusual for the City of Red Deer to spread some of the human byproduct on farmers’ fields. It’s been happening for decades, said the city’s development services director, Kelly Kloss. The solid waste is first heated to get rid of bacteria and other pathogens. Kloss said what remains is phosphates and nitrates, which are healthy for soil.

Usually this waste has been spreading in the fall, after crops are harvested, so the farm fields are not kept out of crop rotation. But two years of bad weather, with late harvests and early snowfalls, have created a “backlog” of solid wastes in the city’s sewer lagoons, said Kloss.

Several councillors questioned spending $1 million to compensate farmers for a product that’s essentially good for their operations. Coun. Lawrence Lee suggested trying to find another solution to deal with the backlog of waste in 2019.

But Coun. Dianne Wyntjes stressed the importance of council taking timely action, since the municipality could spend big money on environmental fines if the lagoons overflow. And Coun. Michael Dawe, who’s sat on the regional waste water commission, noted it’s not a simple or quick process, since Alberta Environment must first provide permits for dealing with waste spreading on any fields.

In an unintentional pun, Mayor Tara Veer said she sees it as a “pay now or pay later issue… We can deal with it at the front end or the back end…”

As councillors chortled, she quickly apologized for her “poor choice of words.”

Council ultimately approved the spending after deciding it’s reasonable to compensate farmers if their fields are put out of commission for a growing season. Staff was directed to look at ways of incorporating the solid waste in the compost process.

But Kloss said another composting plant would have to be built to allow for this in future.

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