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Due to high phosphorous levels in Weiss Lake, Calhoun Utilities could soon be the guinea pig for a nutrient trading program.

Currently, a few other states have implemented water quality trading programs, but this would be the first of its kind in Georgia.

An article from Brown and Caldwell, an environmental engineering company reads, “water quality trading is an innovative approach aimed to achieve water quality standards in a more efficient and lower cost method than more traditional regulatory controls.”

The idea for this program came about due to a study done in 2008 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which approved a 30 percent Total Maximum Daily Load of total phosphorous for rivers feeding into Weiss Lake from Georgia.

“Essentially, we would be paying the poultry dealer to move it (chicken litter) from here to South Georgia to be used as fertilizer,” said Jerry Crawford, director of water and wastewater for Calhoun Utilities.

According to the article from Brown and Caldwell, non-point sources, such as poultry growers, contribute 70 percent of the total phosphorous load from the Coosa River; however, Ga. Environmental Protection Division has limited regulatory authority over most of the non-point sources in the basin.

“With nutrient trading we find a way to remove the phosphorous a cheaper way,” Crawford said. “We would spend $800,000 a year at the waste water plant, or we can spend $200,000 dealing with the poultry farmers.”

Initially, to modify the wastewater plant it would cost a few million dollars and then the $800,000 a year there after, according to Crawford.

“It’s very costly to modify these plants to remove phosphorous,” Crawford said. “The poultry litter is concentrated...so it was the fat low hanging fruit. We have to go for the most economical.”

This program is beneficial, not only to this area, but also to South Georgia.

Crawford said, in our area the ground is already rich in phosphorous, so when the chicken litter is used as fertilizer, after a rain, the excess is washed into the river. That is where the problem exists.

According to Crawford, In south Georgia, the ground isn’t rich with phosphorous. By paying poultry growers here to sell their litter to farmers in South Georgia it benefits both parties.

The trading program would be funded through the wastewater operational budget, according to Crawford.

Poultry growers don’t have to be a part of the program. It is their choice, according to Crawford.

The alternative - if poultry growers don’t accept the nutrient trading program – is for the wastewater plant to be modified, which would be very costly.

The wastewater department has already been in contact with poultry growers and many are accepting of the idea, but there are a few that don’t want to be apart of it.

Crawford said there is no telling when the state will implement the 30 percent reduction of phosphorous, or more. The department has been waiting 12 years for state to issue new permits, but the department plans on running pilot programs to see how the trading program will work.