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Officials may make sewage into compost

John HartGary Cline, a silviculturalist with Tahoe National Forest, takes a look at a small Douglas fir at Buckeye Diggins, where sewage sludge may be turned into compost.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Someday, flushing a toilet in western Nevada County may conjure up images of lush, green forests.

That’s because officials are considering making compost out of treated, sanitized sewage sludge – which they prefer to call “biosolids”- and yard waste.

Placed upon the ground at old hydraulic gold mining sites, this compost could help trees and other greenery grow on ground still mostly barren 150 years after gold-seeking miners first began hosing away hillsides with streams of water.



Officials from the county, state and Tahoe National Forest are pitching it as a possible win-win-win scenario.

The county would get a way to recycle its yard waste and sewage sludge for the foreseeable future, and get closer to meeting its state-mandated recycling goals.




TNF would be able to reforest and restore thousands of acres of old hydraulic mining sites.

And the state’s water supply may benefit because there would be less erosion from the scarred, old “diggins.”

On Thursday, officials from the county, state and TNF took a look around a possible test site: Buckeye Diggins northeast of Nevada City.

“It was the original hydraulic mining site,” said TNF silviculturalist Gary Cline. A silviculturalist deals with the care and development of forests.

He has wanted to use biosolids to restore soil on the site since 1999, when TNF began planting 9,000 tree seedlings and doing other restoration work there.

Things picked up steam this year when Tracey Harper, Nevada County’s recycling coordinator, and Steve Faukner, who helps run the county’s sewage treatment plants, wrote a request for help from the state.

The help came in the form of Ron Lew, a waste management specialist for the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

At state expense, Lew will help Nevada County apply for grants to see if it’s feasible to start composting yard waste and, possibly, mixing in treated sewage sludge. If composting can be shown to reduce erosion into streams, Lew may apply for funding from the state Water Resources Control Board.

Cline hopes to use 28 acres of the Buckeye Diggins to test different types of compost.

“I think this is a great place to start,” he said.

Compost could be laid down in strips and planted with such things as native grasses and forbs, or fern-like plants, Cline said.

Funding from the state could be granted next year, Lew said.


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