Last year, Illinois American Water partnered with Illinois farmers to apply over 29,000 dry tons of residuals and biosolids, rather than sending them to a landfill. The water treatment residuals and wastewater treatment biosolids from Illinois American Water’s Champaign County, Chicago Metro, Granite City, Peoria and Streator service areas were applied to agricultural fields across the state.

Biosolids are primarily organic materials produced during wastewater treatment. Residuals are produced during the water treatment process and are typically alum or lime based. These materials are beneficial for agricultural land application.

According to Ryan Schuler, environmental compliance supervisor for Illinois American Water and manager of the residual and biosolid reuse program, the partnership is a best practice supported by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He said, “We work closely with EPA and follow strict land application guidelines, ensuring the land application not only prevents material from entering landfills, but is also applied to farmland properly to decrease farming-related chemical use and adjust pH to further protect our natural resources.”

Solids generated from the water or wastewater treatment process are held in basins or drying lagoons. In the fall, after crops have been harvested, the alum residuals, lime residuals or biosolids are land applied. Farmers then plow the field after the application or in the spring to incorporate the residuals into the soil. Alum residuals benefit the farmland by helping with the retention of soil moisture, whereas lime residuals benefit the fields by adjusting pH to optimal levels. Biosolids add nitrogen and phosphorus to the agricultural fields.

Illinois American Water works with land application contractors to ensure the residuals are applied to farmland that has undergone required sampling. Also, application isn’t made to sites that are wet, frozen, or near a potable water supply. According to Schuler, there are a number of technical requirements, but the effort is worth it.

“We work with water, our most precious resource, daily. We know how important it is to protect our resources and to reuse what we can. Reusing these natural conditioners on farmland is one of the ways we implement green technology into our operations. We feel this is the right thing to do and we are thankful to the farmers who partner with us on this effort,” said Schuler.