Sewage a treat for poplar trees

Sewage a treat for poplar trees »Play Video
Part of Biocycle Farm/poplar grove near Highway 99, north of Eugene

NEAR EUGENE, Ore. - Fed by tons of sewage sludge, they are among the fastest growing trees in Lane County.

Some of the 88,000 hybrid poplar trees at Biocycle Farm north of Eugene could be ready for harvest in 2013.

The Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission planted the orchard in 2004 to solve a problem: too much sewer gunk.

Eugene Public Works Residuals Supervisor Ken Vanderford said the poplar farm fills several needs.

"They consume a lot of nutrients in their growth," he told KVAL News, "and they consume a lot of recycled water in their growth."

The 600-acre orchard acts as a backup disposal site for sewage sludge, and the trees seem to like it.

"It's not unusual for these trees to grow anywhere from 8 to 10 feet per year," Vanderford said.

Treated wastewater from the River Avenue regional sewer plant is used to irrigate the trees.

Now, the oldest and tallest trees are nearly ready for harvest. Officials just have to find a market for all that poplar wood.

"They can be used for energy production, bio-fuels," Vanderford said. "They can use the veneer for wood products and also as a saw-log as well."

Todd Miller of the Springfield Public Works Department is in charge of seeking proposals for what to do with the trees. Can the farm break even - or make a profit?

"I believe so," Miller said. "It depends on what costs you're looking for and how far in the future you're looking at."

Maintenance costs over 8 years time has cost the commission about $2.2 million. Miller said they'd like to at least recoup that money.

Officials aren't expected to put the 156 acres of poplars out to bid for several more weeks.

If the Wastewater Commission gets responses and is happy with the bids, the first harvest of the poplars could happen as soon as next fall.