Sludge, a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process, has to go somewhere.
But the process to dispose of it is costing Hall County quite a lot.
For years, Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Lula and Hall County have been sending their sludge to the Hall County Landfill.
The county has been charging the municipalities $20 to take each load of sludge, and each load is about 15 to 18 tons, Srikanth Yamala, Hall County Public Works Director, said.
The process costs about $200 to $400 per ton of sludge, and the county has been taking in about 3,000 tons of sludge per year, Yamala said.
But starting July 1, the county landfill will no longer be accepting sludge, leaving the local governments with a decision about where their sludge should go.
When wastewater is treated, the solids and the water need to be separated.
“Sludge can be defined as your semi-solid material, which is a byproduct that is produced during sewage treatment of wastewater. Anything that is flushed from the bathroom, that water. … before it is released to the streams, it needs to get processed,” Yamala said. “... The solids that resulted as a process of the sewage treatment is called the sludge.”
The sludge is transported in watertight containers from a wastewater treatment facility to the landfill, where it needs to be dried out for about three weeks and mixed with garbage before it joins everything else at the landfill.
If it rains when the sludge is drying, the three-week timer must restart.
“It’s time-consuming, it’s taking a lot more resources, and it’s putting a lot more use on our equipment, and it’s just a lengthy process,” Yamala said.
Because Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Lula and Hall County are the only local communities with their own wastewater treatment plants, they are the only ones to deal with sludge. The county landfill does not accept sludge from outside Hall, Yamala said.
None of the local governments have decided where their sludge will go starting in July, but they have been communicating with one another. Those conversations are just beginning, and Yamala said the county wanted to notify the municipalities early so they could have a plan in place.
“I think it’s well worth the time and effort to work collectively,” Lula City Manager Dennis Bergin said at a Feb. 10 city work session, telling council members the city needs a long-term solution rather than a short-term fix.
Lula may end up taking its sludge out of state, Bergin said.
Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew said the South Hall city is still getting quotes from other landfills for its sludge. There will be a budget impact but just how much is not clear yet, he said.
Flowery Branch also anticipates that it will have to travel far to dispose of its sludge.
“It looks like it’s becoming more and more difficult statewide to find a home for this stuff,” Andrew said.
The Gainesville Department of Water Resources takes its water treatment plant sludge to the Hall County Landfill and is looking at alternatives for after July 1, city spokeswoman Christina Santee said. All of Gainesville’s sludge does not end up at the county landfill, though. Sludge from the city’s wastewater treatment plants is transported by a company named Waste Eliminator to Redbone Ridges Landfill in Ranger, Santee said.