Bio-solids in Las Cruces

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Bio-solids are the nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of sewage sludge (the name for residue generated during the treatment of domestic sewage in the wastewater treatment facility). When treated and processed, sewage sludge becomes bio-solids which can be safely recycled and applied as fertilizer to sustainably improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.  It contains no weed seeds.  The wastewater treatment processes sanitize wastewater solids to control pathogens (disease-causing organisms, such as certain bacteria, viruses and parasites) and other organisms capable of transporting disease.  Only bio-solids that meet the most stringent standards spelled out in the Federal and state rules can be approved for use as a fertilizer.     Luckily for Las Cruces gardeners and farmers, the Las Cruces Wastewater Treatment Facility on the west mesa meets these standards. 

Recycling bio-solids is good for the environment. Organic matter has been recycled for centuries to improve soil fertility and productivity. When properly applied and managed, bio-solids can:

  • provide essential plant nutrients
  • improve soil structure and tilth
  • add organic matter
  • enhance moisture retention
  • reduce soil erosion

You can obtain bio-solids at the old Wastewater Treatment Facility Plant at 2851 W Amador (528-3515 M-F 9-3:30).  The facility is located at the extreme west end of Amador (west of Motel Blvd).  You must report to Admin building of the Waste Water Treatment Facility and fill out a form.  Then go back to Amador and drive around the block to a gated enclosed area.  Somebody must go to the gate to ring you in.  You are allowed 10 buckets.   The buckets are in an area enclosed by a low wall about 50 ft from the gate.  They are free.   They usually have buckets prefilled with the bio-solids on-site, but not always.  You can call first and verify if they have the buckets.  The nice thing is that someone will load the buckets for you.  Once you get the 10 buckets, you are expected to bring them back and exchange them for 10 more buckets. 

 

Doug Paczynski is a supervisor at the facility.  He says the bio-solids are high in minerals (especially iron) and low in Nitrogen making it is perfect for irises.   Too much Nitrogen can cause luscious growth of the irises but can lead to root rot.   Roses and grass loves the stuff too.  It can really green up the grass and make it grow (lawn mowers beware).   The facility use to require that you wait 2 years before using the stuff on food crops.  However, the bio-solids now meet the Federal standards for pollution concentrations, Class A pathogen requirements and vector attraction reduction requirements and are now considered safe to use on your food crops.  Just mix it with the soil at the beginning of the planting season. 

 

Note that the waste is no longer treated at the plant on Amador, but is now treated out on the west Mesa.  The city trucks the stuff to the Amador site for us gardeners.  For those who want more than the 10 buckets, you can drive your truck or dump truck to the facility on the west mesa and get as much of the black gold as you wants.   The new facility is located at the south end of Crawford Road.  Take I10  to the Airport exit and turn left and follow Crawford Road to the end  Road is partially unpaved.  Paczynski says there is tons of the stuff out there.    Call 528-3601 for exact directions and to make sure someone is on site to let you in.  He is trying to encourage farmers to use the stuff on their crops.  It is a renewable resource and is not likely to run out any time soon ;-)

 

You might have avoided using bio-solids in the past because the odor can be offensive to some people.  Though this was true several years ago, improved methods of treatment leave the bio-solids today with only a slight musty, ammonia odor.  Much of the odor was caused by compounds containing sulfur and ammonia, both of which are plant nutrients.  However, today’s treatment methods remove much of the ammonia and nitrogen.  That is why the solids are now low in Nitrogen.   It still smells, but not as much as it did a couple of years ago.    I remember a couple of years ago; I was driving back to my house with 10 buckets of the black gold.  I was stopped at a stop light when I suddenly heard a child’s voice from the car next to me exclaiming “That truck smells like diarrhea!”  The little brat won’t have any remarks to make today and any residual odor should last only a few days.   

 

The nutrient breakdown is shown in the table.  Some of the analysis are in parts per million while others are in percentage.  The units are shown in the last column.  Note the high ppm of iron.  Mix the bio-solids with horse or cow manure to add Nitrogen to the mix.   I usually obtain horse manure in the spring and let it sit all summer long.  I then add a shovel full of both the bio-solids and the manure to my new iris plantings.   My soil is sandy and is poor in organic matter and irises do need a little bit of Nitrogen.    For existing plantings I just sprinkle the bio-solids around the plants to a depth of 1/4 inch.  I rarely bother scratching it in.  For online information check out: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/wastewater/treatment/biosolids/genqa.cfm)

So you can help the environment, add nutrients for your plants, enhance moisture retention, its free, it is loaded for you and your truck won’t smell like diarrhea.  What a deal.

 

 

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