Manchester's new sewage spray fields to yield reed canary grass NORTH -- Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro

March 17, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

It's almost spring. The first robins are singing. And the town of Manchester has started spreading sewage effluent over its new spray fields.

The town started spraying water at the site March 1, but Thursday was the first day the liquid sewage effluent started flowing. Soon, the spray fields will be green with reed canary grass.

"When I started work here 15 years ago, I never thought I'd be a farmer," said Steven Miller, Manchester's water and waste water superintendent.

The alfalfa and reed canary grass will act as living sponges, absorbing nitrogen, phosphorus and other excess nutrients from the soil, preventing them from contaminating ground water and the Prettyboy Reservoir.

"This is the wave of the future," Mr. Miller said. "Crownsville does it. . . . It's been proven out West, and it's coming across to the East Coast."

He said the Manchester system was the first of its kind in Carroll and possibly the largest in Maryland.

"Everybody's going to be looking at us," Mr. Miller said.

He said Penn State University has been experimenting with spray-field crops for 35 years. The effluent makes trees grow faster and improves the nutrient value of forage crops, he said.

The town hopes to be able to harvest the crops and sell them. Town Manager Terry Short said the harvest may bring several thousand dollars into Manchester's treasury.

It works this way: When sewage reaches the town's sewage treatment plant, Mr. Miller said, the solid waste is separated and sent to the landfill. The almost-clear liquid that remains is pumped to the town's spray field facility, where it is treated with chlorine.

When weather conditions are right, 1,400 spray heads disperse the treated effluent over seven 10-acre fields just over the ridge from the sewage-treatment plant.

At the site, there is no smell of sewage, and only a faint whiff of chlorine near where the chemical is added to the system.

The parts of the spray fields that aren't wooded were planted hTC last fall with reed canary grass, which is used for animal forage. About 30 acres not being sprayed were planted in alfalfa.

"March is a tough month," Mr. Miller said. "You almost have to baby-sit" the spray fields because of the weather.

Spraying must stop if the ground is saturated by rain, because of potential problems with runoff.

Regulations also require spraying to stop if wind velocity reaches 20 mph, because at higher speeds the droplets could carry beyond treatment plant boundaries.

Mr. Miller said the pond can store 10- to 20 days' worth of effluent, enough to carry the town through periods of adverse weather.

Mr. Miller said that when Manchester received a state permit for its new sewage treatment plant, the town was required to stop pumping treated effluent into nearby George's Run, a tributary of Prettyboy Reservoir, by March 1.

Reed canary grass is usually used for pasture, not grown for hay, said county extension agent David Greene, who has helped the town with the project. It was chosen, he said, because it grows high and uses lots of nutrients, and it is a perennial that won't have to be re-planted every year.

If the crop is cut at the right time and not allowed to go moldy, Mr. Greene said, the product is comparable to timothy hay.

He said local farmers don't feel the town is competing unfairly with them. Hay is in short supply in the area, he said, and local farmers don't usually grow reed canary grass.

He said Manchester's acreage will probably be the largest stand of reed canary grass in the state.

Mr. Short said the treatment plant cost about $4 million, about 97 percent of which came from state and federal grants.

Mr. Miller said the plant's staff will have to learn a lot during the first year of operation.

They don't know what effect the effluent will have on their crops, or how big those crops will be. They also have to learn to market their product, if they want to turn a profit.

Mr. Miller said one thing that has helped is that the plant's senior operator, Mike Thompson, has waste-water treatment plant experience, and the junior operator, Richard Cape Jr., has farming experience.

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