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Savings, awards found by North Iowa landfill in a 'garbage water' pipeline
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Savings, awards found by North Iowa landfill in a 'garbage water' pipeline


Fill a pitcher with water, then pour it in your garbage can.

Catch whatever leaks out the bottom of the can in another pitcher.

That's leachate, otherwise known as garbage water, and there is a lot of it sitting at the bottom of the open cell at the Landfill of North Iowa.

Like two 30,000 gallon tanks' worth at any given moment.

The state Department of Natural Resources requires landfills like North Iowa's to have a collection system for leachate to prevent it from leaking into the groundwater.

The landfill's solution up until a year ago was to drive multiple 6,000-gallon tankers back and forth to Mason City's water reclamation facility a couple of times each day.

Sometimes, the city's existing flow was too high to allow the trunks to dump the garbage water. Sometimes, traffic slowed the process down.

The annual cost: about $400,000, according to Bill Rowland, the landfill's director.

"The board gets together six times a year and goes over the numbers," Rowland said. "They'd get to the leachate disposal number and it was a real 'whoa' moment."

That was driver in 2017 for Rowland to begin looking for other options. 

There aren't that many. Landfills can do what North Iowa had been doing and pump and carry the leachate out or it can create a lagoon with an aerator that turns the garbage water to mist that evaporates.

"At 20 below, you're not going to get much mist, though," Rowland said.

The final option was much like what farmers do to eliminate water from their fields – they tile it.

In 2018, the landfill hired engineering firm Foth to install a force main pipeline from the landfill's tanks to a station three miles away that connects to the city's wastewater reclamation facility.

It required obtaining rights of way from the city and county and working with two railroads to run pipe under their lines.  

The $1.7 million project, paid for with member dues and tipping fees, was complete in September of that year, and now, a little over a year later, Rowland has declared success.

The pipeline handled 6.57 million gallons of leachate from the time it went online until the end of September. The move to the piping system saves the landfill roughly $950 a day in handling and disposal costs.

It saved the landfill $343,700 in its first year, Rowland said. The project will likely pay for itself in the next four or five years should the savings continue at the same rate.

The savings couldn't come at a better time as the landfill is in the midst of construction of a new $2.2 million cell.

Paul Vanous, operations manager of Mason City's wastewater treatment plant, said it's much less of a strain on the system to have a steady flow of the garbage water coming into the system than to have large quantities dumping off and on each day. 

"It's good for them, good for us and good for the environment," Vanous said.

And, it turns out, good for consumers' pocketbooks and the landfill's trophy case, too. 

The Iowa chapter of the Solid Waste Association of North America recently recognized the landfill for outstanding leachate management. It's also been able to show a measurable reduction of greenhouse gases since it stopped using the tankers to transport the leachate, and that's caught the eye of the state's DNR.

The Landfill of North Iowa has consistently been one of the top 10 cheapest to use in the state, Rowland said. 

The savings found in the pipeline also allows programs like hazardous waste disposal and offering wood chips to the public to the continue. Both of those programs consistently operate in the red, Rowland said.

Making money isn't the priority. Serving the public is.

"That's why we do it," he said.


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