In 1991 Pacific Northwest salmon was threatened with extinction. The authorities found that the cause could be due to common water quality problems in salmon streams with increased levels of fecal coliform and a decrease in dissolved oxygen levels, attributable to dairy wastes from local farms. An unusual group of people have taken steps to save salmon from extinction while also reducing environmental harm.
We consumers worry about the heavy metals and chemicals found in the salmon on our plate while fishermen and ecologists worry that salmon populations may become extinct. In 1991 Pacific Northwest salmon was threatened with extinction. The authorities found that the cause could be due to common water quality problems in salmon streams with increased levels of fecal coliform and a decrease in dissolved oxygen levels, attributable to dairy wastes from local farms. An unusual group of people have taken steps to save salmon from extinction while also reducing environmental harm.
Farmers, tribal agencies, federal and state officials have been working together to find ways of building a natural barrier that prevents flooding and provides a slow-water rearing habitat for salmon.
John Sayre, executive director of Northwest Chinook Recovery, has worked for 35 years to protect the salmon habitat in the Puget Sound region of the US. Sayre has been working with a number of farmers, tribal agencies, federal and state officials to find ways of building a natural barrier that prevents flooding and provides a slow-water rearing habitat for salmon.
Many of the farmers in the region and the local Indian tribes were originally skeptical towards environmentalists. “We started meeting with the Indian tribes and had clandestine meetings in people’s houses on the reservation or elsewhere,” Sayre says. “You’d have two or three farmers and two or three members of the tribal council and out of that developed a friendship, and then eventually partnership and trust.”
“Farmers and the farmlands along rivers have the best potential to restore salmon habitat. Farmers are not the enemy; they are potentially the best friend that salmon could have.” Sayre says. It was at one of those meetings that someone from the tribes suggested that an anaerobic digester of dairy manure might be built to produce electricity.
Eventually in 2003 a nonprofit organization was formed with farmers, tribes and environmentalists as equal partners. The organization has built an anaerobic digester with capacity to digest feedstock from 2,200 cows. Previously all the farms flushed manure into lagoons or scraped manure from stalls to manage the solids on-site. The new waste collection systems at the farms have been adapted to pump fresh manure from the farms to the digester where methane gas is produced and burned by combustion engines to generate electricity. The remaining liquids and solids are separated and the digested liquid effluent is pumped back to the farms and used as fertilizer. The digested solids will be dried and marketed as compost or animal bedding.The generators at the facility produce electricity which is sold to the local grid, producing around 450 kilowatts of power, enough to power approximately 300 homes.
Sayre says they could build anaerobic digesters to serve more than just dairy farmers. “Since we are close to Seattle, I think there will be lots of other sources of feedstock that are going to come forward. Look at all of the food that gets wasted in this country on an annual basis,” he says.
Revenue from the digesters might also help to fund more salmon habitat protection projects, Sayre says. “This project has turned into far more than an anaerobic digester,” he says. “This is a site that we want to use to demonstrate some of the answers that we have. It really is a demonstration site for, hopefully, a new way of thinking and a new approach. It’s not just talking or producing another damned report. It’s a demonstrable solution.” Read the full story…Summarized from an article by Ryan C. Christiansen, Biomass Magazine staff writer.