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Sustainable Conservation Receives Major Water Quality Grant from USDA

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week that four organizations received approximately $2 million to fund five conservation projects in California. Sustainable Conservation was among the winners. The competition was very tight, as the California awards represent less than 7% of all awards granted nationwide.

We were awarded a $484,000 grant to install and demonstrate an innovative system to naturally treat nitrogen in wastewater at a commercial dairy in Merced county. The system consists of two wastewater holding tanks, between which water is pumped back and forth at a controlled rate. This reciprocating motion creates an environment that supports beneficial microbes that remove the nitrogen in the wastewater. There are also notable air-quality benefits with the system, such as reduced levels volatile organic compounds, greenhouse gases and odors.

The ultimate goal of our project is to show the effectiveness of this low-tech clean-water solution and spur adoption of the technology in the Central Valley - especially in the San Joaquin Valley where most of the state's dairies are located. The technology will be especially helpful in regions with limited available cropland for applying excess manure, regions that have highly permeable soils and those with shallow groundwater tables.

Sustainable Conservation has successfully tested a similar, but much smaller, system since 2009 at the California Polytechnic State University research dairy, resulting in dramatic cuts to nitrogen in dairy wastewater.

The award is timely as a recent study conducted by UC Davis found that 96% of nitrogen applied to cropland in Tulare County and the Salinas Valley leaches into groundwater, a primary drinking water supply for millions of Californians. Of that amount, 33% is from the application of dairy manure. California dairies are also facing new state-mandated water-quality requirements, and our innovative solution will help them comply with those regulations in a low-cost way.