Due to the recent spill of cow manure in the Tillamook River I think its time to bring back something to the conversational table. Though the North Coast doesn’t have as many dairy farms as the other sections of Tillamook County it doesn’t mean the area is untouched by changes to the industry.
By Brian Cameron
The manure spill, according to statements from the TCCA, was the result of faulty equipment malfunction, which then enabled thousands of gallons of dairy waste to get into a drainage slough, which then fed into the Tillamook River.
There exists an elephant in the room of this discussion however and it involves some questions that honestly were likely never thought to come up. For starters what happens if a local dairy’s manure holding capacity reaches its limits and the rains don’t stop to allow them to spread it on their pastures? Currently an area dairy has to have enough holding capacity for six months worth of manure, the reason behind that is due to our predominately wet climate and the mitigation of manure getting into salmon bearing streams. So what to do when the tank is full and the rains don’t stop?
Anecdotally you’ll hear stories of farmers opening their storage tanks when the fields are flooded in order to skirt below the regulatory radar, which is hearsay to say the least. However what if there was another option, one that not only currently is sitting unused but one that can add a multitude of benefits to citizens of Tillamook County?
I’m talking about the Anaerobic Digesters. Those fascinating installations that separate cow manure into the solid, liquid and gas, each possessing its own unique usage to not only the dairy farmer but everyone around. You see, with an anaerobic digester a dairy can go from being a cornerstone of agriculture to a proverbial powerhouse. A digester can render the methane to burn in an engine, which then can power a generator to feed into the local electrical grid. Not only that but the solid byproduct is inert and can be used as compost to resurface pastures, lawns and gardens as well as provide a near-free source of bedding for cows in their barn stalls, a cost that otherwise can be in the thousands of dollars per month. Finally the leftover affluent fluid can be given back to the farmer to broadcast on their pastures as fertilizer. It’s a win-win for all aspects of the industry, except one. Cost.
Right now a 3.5 million gallon digester facility is sitting unused at the Port of Tillamook Bay, it lost its operational funding from the Port and for about four months afterward the TCCA footed the bill. How can a facility that provides up to one megawatt of power per day by providing green-energy sit unused, it all comes down to trucking. Literally transporting manure from farm to digester and back again. Its expensive. But the question everyone should be asking is whether or not that service is worth clean streams and rivers? Trucking costs can be covered and solutions can be found to accommodate this much-needed utility to our area. But it takes a concerned community to do so.