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Reuse of the deuce: Calgary company recycling clean water from cattle, hog manure

Livestock Water Recycling sells technology that separates solids from liquid livestock manure, offering producers more control over reusing the nutrients in manure.  (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Livestock Water Recycling sells technology that separates solids from liquid livestock manure, offering producers more control over reusing the nutrients in manure. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A Calgary company is helping farmers recycle livestock manure into clean water that can be used to irrigate crops.

Livestock Water Recycling says its technology separates cattle and hog manure into liquids and solids — so farmers can do their duty with their animals' doody.

When separated, solids from manure can be applied as fertilizer with a lower risk of creating runoff that contaminates natural bodies of water, according to Dalhousie University professor Gordon Price.

Livestock Water Recycling said demand for its services is growing as drought conditions persist across large swaths of North America.

"We're not drawing from water sources. We're reusing what we already have from the animals," said Karleigh Lewis, an account manager with the company.

"In those different locations where they've seen drought conditions or … their water supplies are starting to deplete, they're looking for those other options," she said.

"So there's definitely been more and more conversations that I've been having day-to-day on wanting to look at water and water reuse and water recycling."

Price, the lead researcher at Dalhousie's innovative waste management program, said the majority of livestock manure is applied as fertilizer "as is" in a liquid state.

He said liquid manure tends to be 95 per cent water, and farms with high livestock concentrations near surface water are at greater risk of polluting the environment if they apply too much on their fields.

"If [companies] have an efficient system to separate out the solids and … generate a cleaner sort of water that won't be a contaminant, then certainly there's some positives and benefits that could come out of that."

But Price said most farms follow best prescribed practices and don't contaminate the environment by applying liquid manure.

Separating manure to save on gas

Livestock Water Recycling's equipment also allows farmers to save on fuel costs because it means they can stop trucking liquids to far-off fields, said Lewis.

"When it's in a solid form, it's a lot more economical because we've concentrated all the nutrients into a smaller amount," she said.

"So now those fields further away can get that organic material."

But Price said the technology that separates manure can be expensive, and depending on the property, startup costs can outweigh other benefits.
 
"Nothing comes for free," he said.

Drought conditions persist

Many of Alberta's rivers and reservoirs are well below normal water levels for this time of year.

The federal government's most recent drought assessment said 51 river basins, covering more than half the agricultural land in the province, were reporting critical water shortages in late February.

Ottawa's assessment also said more than half of the province's agricultural producers are working under severe or exceptional drought.

Water levels in the Oldman, St. Mary and Pine Coulee reservoirs south of Calgary were measured at 30, 19, and 28 per cent capacity, respectively, the province said on March 6.

Normal at this time of year is between 61 and 80 per cent for the Oldman Reservoir, 49-74 per cent for the St. Mary Reservoir, and 74-91 per cent for the Pine Coulee Reservoir.

Flows of the Sheep River at Okotoks, the Bow River near its mouth, and the Red Deer River at Drumheller have all been measured at below normal levels for March.