Green on the Vine

A Colorado treatment plant creates a more sustainable site by planting a vineyard and cultivating acreage for a wildlife habitat
Green on the Vine
A restored lagoon area shows newly planted grape vines with trestle posts, support wires and irrigation pipes.

Growing grapes and developing a vineyard might not be the first thing wastewater operators think of doing to upgrade the landscape of a treatment plant. But that’s exactly what the Clifton (Colo.) Sanitation District did to help transform a former biosolids lagoon site into a sustainable agricultural area and wildlife habitat.

When the two sanitation districts in Clifton merged in 2006, they agreed to build a new 2.5 mgd extended-aeration activated sludge treatment plant and reclaim the land once occupied by the three lagoon systems that had served both districts for 54 years.

Plant manager Brian Woods says that from the beginning, they wanted a vineyard as the focal point of the 37-acre reclaimed area. So far, nearly four acres are producing grapes, and another 10 acres may be added. The grapes are harvested and processed by a local vintner into a Cabernet varietal. Money from sale of the grapes will help offset maintenance costs.


Paying it back

“We expect a payback of our original investment in the vineyard within six or seven years,” says Woods. Plant personnel water the grapes and do the mowing to keep the rows clean, but the vintner does the spraying, trimming, trellising and picking the grapes.

The plant has partnered with other agriculture producers who also provide revenue. A local farmer also harvests more than 17 acres of alfalfa hay, and another five acres next to the plant, owned by the sanitation district, may also be converted into crops.

It was no small task to decommission, reclaim and restore the lagoon property. About 20 percent of the more than 100,000 cubic yards of sludge removed was processed through the new plant, dewatered and dried. A clay liner had to be removed. After treatment to meet Class A compost requirements, the biosolids were used for soil amendment and to create berms and other landscaping to form a deepwater pond and wetlands.

Upland tall grasses, trees and shrubs were planted over many acres to establish a sustainable wildlife habitat that attracts a variety of species, including ducks and pheasants. Irrigation water travels in a stream that meanders through the wildlife area to the Colorado River. Although the area is not open to public hunting, the district takes part with the state Division of Wildlife in an upland bird release program, and supervised youth hunting is allowed.


Many funding sources

Paying for the reclamation project wasn’t easy. “We have had a tremendous amount of resources that we used from a lot of different areas,” says Woods. For example, a grant from the Division of Wildlife covered the costs to build the ponds and construct the wetlands along the riparian corridor to the river.

A grant from the National Resources Conservation Service paid for the on-site irrigation system, the pond liner, and more than 7,000 wetland plants, trees, shrubs and grasses. The grants totaled $200,000. For the lagoon reclamation, the district provided a dollar-for-dollar match for a $500,000 Energy Impact Grant through the state Department of Local Affairs.

“The Conservation Service grant was based on water conservation, because our irrigation process slows and stops the deposition of selenium into the river,” says Woods. All the irrigation is done with four water cannons. “We don’t have a gravity irrigation system available to us, so the grant also paid for the drip and spray system used in the vineyard, and the standpipes and underground distribution for irrigation on the alfalfa fields,” says Woods.


Volunteer support

Labor to install pipes, poles and wires, and to plant all the grapes came with help from inmates at a minimum-security correctional institute. Other tasks fell to volunteers fulfilling community service obligations. “Our own staff handled landscaping around our plant construction,” says Woods. “As we hired and trained the staff while the plant was being built, they helped with the landscaping during slow periods.”

Woods and others at the district managed the project. “The result was that we took $155,000 and landscaped four times the area for which those dollars were originally allocated,” Woods says. “The whole project came in under budget. If you want something bad enough, you’ll see that it gets done.”


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