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Nutrient-rich wastewater no longer flows into the North Fork of the Shenandoah River from Broadway or Timberville, Va., or from two neighboring poultry processing plants. Instead, reclaimed wastewater flows through irrigation equipment as part of the SIL Cleanwater Project, a private project developed as an environmental solution for wastewater treatment in the area and, ultimately, for the water quality-plagued Chesapeake Bay.

"Our motivation for developing this program was the environment - looking at nutrient reduction efforts for wastewater from point and non-point sources to get ahead of the curve," says John Johnson, vice president of marketing for Sheaffer International, L.L.C., the Naperville, Ill., engineering firm that spearheads the program.

Johnson previously was with the Virginia Poultry Federation, which used a Virginia Environmental EndowJent grant to explore zero discharge alternatives in wastewater treatment for the poultry industry. "This program is a home run for the environment and for the people involved because it will take thousands of pounds of nutrients out of the water," he says.

Specifically, some 200,000 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus will be pulled annually from the Shenandoah River through the Sheaffer system that began operation last August. The system first removes pathogens from the water and then utilizes the water for crop production, replacing conventional sewage treatment methods that discharge nutrient-rich sewage effluent into the river.

"This project is in harmony with nature and benefits local farmers," Johnson says. To that end, Sheaffer has negotiated 25-year irrigation easements with five area farmers in the watershed. In return for the easements, participating farmers receive free irrigation water, equipment and equipment maintenance for 25 years.

Johnson says soil sensors, as well as strict guidelines from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, also are provided to control the amount of water put on the land as irrigation to protect the groundwater and soil quality.

­Farmers essentially are being given 25 years of drought-free farming," he notes. "We also expect that the more sensitive nutrient management employed by these farmers will improve area water quality even more."

Sheaffer officials estimate that under irrigation, corn yields in the area could increase 30 to 50 bushels per acre, corn silage output may grow 3 to 6 tons per acre and soybean yields may rise 15 to 20 bushels per acre. A total of 530 acres are enrolled in the program.

In addition to the benefits of irrigation, the SIL Cleanwater Project is expected to eliminate nuisance odors usually associated with wastewater treatment, greatly reduce sludge generation, and offer lower operating costs than the conventional sewage treatment plants.

"In Wampler (WLR) Foods’ case, the Sheaffer facility offers long-term stability in wastewater treatment with positive environmental effects," says Walt Shafer, vice president of chicken operations for WLR Foods Inc., Broadway. "By sending wastewater to the Sheaffer facility for treatment, we will greatly reduce our discharge of nutrients to the Chesapeake Bay. This is a tremendous environmental benefit to our watershed."

WLR and Rocco/Shady Brook Farms in Timberville - the other poultry processing plant - have 25-year contracts with Sheaffer to run and operate the wastewater treatment plant on their behalf. Nutrient levels will be measured and monitored along the river to determine the impact of the treatment on water quality.

Johnson says parties involved with the project so far have been satisfied with its progress. "We believe this will become our show-and-tell project for potential customers to demonstrate how point source pollution can be reduced and non-point source pollution can be addressed," he says. "This is an effective way for communities, companies and farmers to work together on water quality."

George Pace, chief executive officer of Rocco, has similar thoughts. "The Sheaffer Wastewater Treatment Facility is an excellent example of business and government working together to seek joint solutions that will benefit everyone. Most importantly, the river will be clean." AM

Barb Baylor Anderson is a freelance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.

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