City approves $2 million for sludge demo

by Amy Kingsley

The Greensboro City Council approved nearly $2 million on May 15 to test a nitrogen reduction system at TZ Osborne Wastewater Plant in anticipation of state regulations slated to go into effect sometime next year.

The motion passed eight to one with District 4 representative Mike Barber casting the only dissenting vote. The money will fund a full-scale demonstration of activated sludge technology at one of Greensboro’s two wastewater treatment plants. Activated sludge is a process by which concentrated biological material is mixed with untreated water to reduced nitrogen and other pollutants.

The new regulations are intended to reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in Jordan Lake – a water body that has been plagued by algae blooms and fish kills. Soon the State Division of Water Quality will start taking public comments on new water-quality rules for municipalities that discharge water into the Haw River, including Greensboro. The Piedmont Triad Council of Governments, the organization that has coordinated discussions between the state and municipalities, estimates the rules will go into affect in August 2008.

“We fully expect the rules will pass,” said City Manager Mitchell Johnson. “And we want to be prepared when they do.”

City officials in Greensboro and other municipalities upriver of Jordan Lake have long challenged the validity of models that link some pollution in the lake to discharge from the Triad. The New Hope River and the Haw River primarily feed the lake, and opponents of the new Jordan Lake rules attribute the vast majority of the pollution to the former tributary, which flows from the Triangle.Johnson compared the activated sludge system to an aquarium filter. He said the project would provide more surface area and microbes to clean the treated wastewater.

Barber questioned the urgency of spending $2 million on the project. Earlier in the meeting, Johnson had proposed a budget that would raise property taxes 4 cents per $100 valuation, a proposition Barber labeled “disgusting.”

“We heard a budget tonight that there are some issues on,” Barber said. “Today is May. We have two months of budget discussions in front of us. Why don’t we wait sixty or ninety days before we make this decision?”

Tom Phillips, District 3 representative and the council’s other reliable fiscal conservative, advocated going ahead with the demonstration.”The state is heading down a path with Jordan Lake,” Phillips said. “If we wait sixty or ninety days we’re still going to wind up doing this.”

Barber pushed for postponement based on the fact that quality of life in Greensboro would not be affected by changes at the Osborne plant. Johnson agreed, but said that the city should be prepared to demonstrate to state officials that the activated sludge system works. Otherwise residents might have to pay for a more expensive nitrogen reduction system.”I would be completely disingenuous if I said we have to vote on this tonight,” Johnson said. “But Mr. Phillips is absolutely correct. We have no doubt that they are going to establish nitrogen removal standards for Greensboro.”

Barber opposed moving forward with such a large expenditure before the final nitrogen standards are approved.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “And we’re not sure what the state’s standards will be.”

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