A northwest Washington dairy will test whether cow manure can be economically purified into water clean enough to put into a river to help salmon.
The demonstration project at Coldstream Farms in Deming will tackle two concerns: managing manure in a wet climate and keeping stream flows up for fish. The experiment is primarily funded by a state grant.
“We’re partners with the Washington state taxpayers, and there’s responsibility that comes with that,” Coldstream Farms partner Galen Smith said. “We’re trying to show what’s possible.”
Coldstream and Regenis, a manure-management company in Ferndale, received the $930,305 grant last year from the Washington State Conservation Commission. The grant was one of five the commission awarded for innovative projects to keep manure from polluting water.
Regenis business development director Eric Powell said the reverse osmosis process of treating water is proven technology, but has not been tried before on a dairy in Washington. It’s among the techniques being tested.
“There’s not one silver bullet. We would never say that,” Powell said. “Dairies need options.”
The system Regenis installed is designed to filter, screen and treat about 22,000 gallons of manure a day, roughly one-third the amount the dairy produces.
Once fully operating, the system is expected to daily produce 16 yards of solid fertilizer, 8,000 gallons of concentrated liquid fertilizer and 12,000 gallons of water for the South Fork of the Nooksack River. The Washington Ecology Department must still issue a permit to release the water into the river.
Squeezing water from the manure would make fertilizer easier to haul and free up room in the dairy’s lagoons. The cleansed water sent to the river could compensate for new domestic wells in the basin.
“We really want to show all the possibilities,” Powell said.
Smith said the farm is working on getting operational and maintenance costs down from about 2 cents to 1 cent per gallon. If cost-effective, the system will allow the dairy to grow beyond its current 1,650 milking cows without adding another manure lagoon, he said.
Smith said the farm has the acreage to spread more manure, but its lagoons are close to capacity because of the region’s heavy rains.
“We do not want to build more storage lagoons,” he said. “We want to get the water out of our manure.”
The local public utility district, Whatcom PUD, is talking with Ecology to get permission to discharge the treated water.
PUD General Manager Steve Jilk said the utility got involved to test whether it could help dairies manage manure while creating new water rights, possibly relieving pressure on the county’s farmers to curtail irrigation in dry seasons.
Since the project started, Ecology has identified the water from Coldstream Farms as a way to comply with a bill passed last year by legislators.
The bill responded to the state Supreme Court’s Hirst ruling. The decision threatened to close rural Washington to new domestic wells. The bill reopened well drilling. In exchange, the state will spend more on fish projects. The bill also directed Ecology to compensate for water that new wells might divert from rivers and streams in some basins, including the Nooksack.
“If that’s the beneficial use, the PUD is fine with that,” Jilk said.