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Eco-Gardens in Occidental and Turning Waste Water Into Wool


Eco-Gardens in Occidental and Turning Waste Water Into Wool

By Ann Maurice

In a previous issue of the Sonoma County Gazette, we discussed affordable tertiary wastewater treatment for Occidental -- disinfected with ultra-violet, discharged into Dutch Bill Creek in the rainy season, then disposed of on land in the dry-season, roughly May-October.

Now consider transforming Occidental into an “Eco-Gardens”, proudly landscaped and irrigated with its own treated wastewater. There are long lists of wastewater tolerant plants. So now we can look for voracious water consumers instead of drought tolerant plants. And all you lawn lovers can step shamelessly up to the plate! Green lawns all summer, irrigated with wastewater from Occidental’s own treatment plant -- a bountiful “Eco-Gardens” -- building on, and expanding the beautiful downtown landscaping  installed so many years ago..

But an “Eco-Gardens” in town won’t be enough to dispose of Occidental’s 20,000 gallon a day production of wastewater each and every day in the dry-season!

Enter grass! Acre for acre grass takes up an incredible amount of water. It grows and grows as you mow and mow, absorbing and transpiring gallons upon gallons of water. Mountain Shadows in Rohnert Park, Northwoods in Guerneville and Windsor Golf Courses have all been irrigated with tertiary treated wastewater for decades. What have golf courses got that we’ve also got? GRASS! Acres and acres of grass, grass, grass!

How much grass would be needed to take up all of Occidental’s dry-season flow? Only about 6 acres! Do we have 6 acres of pasture in and around town? You betcha! Acres and acres of open grassland, around and near the town. Are any grass owners in town willing to allow tertiary irrigation on their property? What if the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) offered them free turf? Free water? Let’s ask them.

Sod uses about 1” of water per week. So simple arithmetic shows that 6 acres of sod requires 6 times that amount, or 6 inches, or in other words, ½ acre foot per week. And ½ acre foot = about 163,000 gallons. That’s per week! How much wastewater does Occidental produce? Less than that --140,000 gallons per week May-October. So-o-o… Bingo! 6 acres of sod, 6 acres of mixed pasture grasses, is enough acreage to handle all Occidental’s dry-season wastewater flow!

2 acres here, 2 acres there…and the mowing? What about nature’s premium mowers? Sheep! Around here, it is said that 1 acre of native grasses can feed one sheep for a year. But irrigated pasture can support many more. Just select the right mix of grasses, clover and forbs that keep sheep happy and healthy -- grasses and herbs that thrive on tertiary wastewater irrigation -- and each sheep will turn wastewater into up to 30 pounds of wool. Let sheep turn wastewater into wool and take it to the wool mill in nearby Valley Ford to be spun for use by local fiber artists, and the circle is complete! 

Add a truck-fill station and free above-ground storage tanks for fire protection, landscaping, and ???…. and we just might have resolved Occidental’s wastewater disposal dilemma. Turn wastewater into wool, beautify the town with new wastewater-tolerant plantings, provide wastewater for fire suppression and Occidental’s wastewater will have been kept “close to home“, in and near Occidental, right where it was generated in the first place.