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Charlotte shrinks acreage for sewage sludge

Myra Morrison operates a combine on her land in Cabarrus County, where opposition grew to Charlotte Water’s spreading sewage sludge on farmland.
Myra Morrison operates a combine on her land in Cabarrus County, where opposition grew to Charlotte Water’s spreading sewage sludge on farmland. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte Water is losing more than one-third of the North Carolina farm acreage where it spreads sewage sludge, according to a proposed state permit.

Rural residents have increasingly protested the practice of spreading treated sludge to fertilize farm fields. But the utility says that is not the reason it’s losing acreage.

Many farms have become subdivisions since the utility’s permit was last renewed in 2006, said spokeswoman Jennifer Frost. Farmers are dying or changing to crops such as cotton that aren’t suited to sludge.

The new permit, which still has to be approved by the state, trims 3,755 of the 10,600 acres in eight counties previously available for sludge.

Union County’s 169 fields will fall to 87, Anson County’s from 134 to 74, Stanly County’s from 55 to 29. No fields in Gaston and Richmond counties will be used.

The amount of sludge Charlotte Water can distribute – 28,000 tons a year – won’t change.

The new figures are in a draft state permit that will be the subject of a public meeting Tuesday in Cabarrus County.

Last month, the utility withdrew a plan to add 1,300 acres of sludge fields in Iredell, Cabarrus and Rowan counties after opposition from residents.

So-called land application of sludge has been done for decades, but opponents worry that toxic chemicals and heavy metals in sludge will poison farmland and groundwater.

Charlotte Water defends the safety of its sludge but said it plans to spend $100 million over the next six years to eliminate pathogens. That would make the product clean enough to sell to retail customers.

Legislators have also stepped in to the sludge debate.

A bill filed in the N.C. House last month would let counties that incinerate sludge, such as Cabarrus, require it be burned before it’s spread as fertilizer on farm fields.

The bill is still in committee.

Henderson: 704-358-5051;

Twitter: @bhender

Public meeting

The state Division of Water Resources will take public comments on the Charlotte Water sludge permit at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mount Pleasant High School, 700 Walker Road in Mount Pleasant.

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