Opening Pelican city wastewater treatment to ‘imported’ landfill liquid could generate more than $200,000 a year for city coffers

By Brent E. Frazier, mayor
City of Pelican Rapids

“Leachate” is a term not many people had heard of until they recently read about it in the March 9 edition of The Press.

So what actually is leachate? But before we define leachate, let’s back up and investigate its origin.

We all are familiar with the term “landfill”—a place to dispose of refuse and other waste material, then burying it and covering it with soil. 

As long as people produce waste and garbage, the need for landfills will always be a necessity. 

As civilization has become more environmentally cautious and aware, the total number of landfills has declined as we now see regional landfills instead of each small or large city having a landfill of its own. 

The City of Pelican Rapids operated a landfill for many decades in the same location that is currently the Otter Tail County Transfer Station. 

Landfills produce carbon dioxide, methane, non-methane organic compounds, nitrogen, hydrogen, and water vapor. All have an impact on the environment. And as well as producing toxins and greenhouse gases, landfills produce leachate.

Leachate is the liquid that percolates or drains down through the wastes and soils of a landfill and is then collected within a liner or geomembrane. 

The amount of leachate collected at a landfill is determined by the quantity of waste disposed at the landfill and the amount of precipitation falling onto the landfill.

If untreated, leachate is considered a pollutant; therefore, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) requires that leachate be treated by a biological treatment process—most commonly the activated sludge process. 

This treatment process is very important for the elimination of harmful contaminants and organic substances that are capable of negatively impacting surface and groundwater, which then can cause harm to human health. 

Pelican Rapids was contacted in September 2020 by Mr. Robert Nulph of Source One Organics, Inc. to determine if the city would be interested in accepting leachate from area landfills, notably the Clay County Landfill in Hawley. This could lead to a possible source of revenue for the city.

Mr. Nulph had knowledge that Pelican operated a Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) that has the proper treatment process for leachate, and also, the WWTF has more hydraulic flow capacity than it is currently receiving on a daily basis.

The biological treatment of leachate will be of little or no burden to the WWTF as the leachate is determined to be of little solid material and is composed of approximately 90% water. 

Leachate composition analysis from the Clay Landfill was completed in September 2020, and the results were forwarded to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for review. The MPCA could not foresee anything in the analysis to restrict the city from receiving leachate from Clay County. 

During the many months that followed, more investigative work was done by Mr. Nulph and the city, which resulted in the acceptance of a couple of “experimental” tankers of leachate, of which no adverse situations arose, as reported by the People Service personnel who are contracted to operate the city plant.

The Pelican City Council has agreed to enter into a six (6) month “trial agreement” to accept leachate from Clay Landfill with an opt-out clause for both entities to pursue if either should deem necessary.

This agreement can hopefully result in a longer-term agreement, whereas the treatment of leachate could become a revenue source for Pelican Rapids. 

Unlike some cities that have other revenue-producing utilities such as natural gas, electricity, and/or cable television, Pelican Rapids has only the water and wastewater utilities, of which the customer rates are adjusted from time to time to pay for the utility expenses and to build a financial cushion for unexpected costs. 

The jury is still out on how many tanker loads of leachate the city can accept, although the potential revenue income for future years could produce as much as $150,000 to $200,000 annually if leachate is accepted from Clay County and possibly other landfills. 

Yes, it all goes to show that one entity’s waste can become another entity’s bread and butter!