Ojai residents seek to turn horse manure along watershed into energy

By Shane Cohn 09/13/2012

There is literally loads of crap surrounding the Ventura River watershed area.

And while it may not sound all that sexy, something called a “bio-digester” may soon turn tons of that waste into energy.

On Monday, Sept. 17, in the Matilija Auditorium, the public, who may eventually be asked to foot the bill for the bio-digester, is invited to learn about the facility that uses natural bacteria to convert animal waste, garden trimmings and food wastes into three useful byproducts: methane gas for energy, sterile compost and liquid fertilizer.

The Ventura County Watershed Protection District (District) estimates there are more than 2,000 horses in the cities of Casitas Springs, Oak View, Ojai, Mira Monte and Meiners Oaks, which comprise part of the Ventura River watershed. Naturally, water runoff can take the contaminants from horse waste into the river, and the nitrates in the waste can cause excessive algae growth that kills fish and other river life.

In response to Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board’s action to establish regulations that will require a reduction of these contaminants, the District, along with local agencies, was awarded a $100,000 grant from the state in 2011 to conduct a feasibility study of a bio-digester in the Ojai Valley.

“If you just compost your horse manure, OK, maybe you’re doing a bit and you can protect it from the runoff water, but the bowels still go into the air,” said Phil Sherman, who works with Waste to Energy, a local volunteer committee that helped obtain the grant. “With an anaerobic digestion plant, we can handle horse waste, restaurant waste and green waste.”

The feasibility study, in coordination with local consultant AECOM, has been under way for nearly a year and is about halfway completed, said Sherman. The first phase of the study, according to the District, estimated that 6,200 kWh/day of energy production — the equivalent energy use of approximately 200 homes — can be generated from approximately 50 tons/day of horse waste from 1,200 horses, food waste from 18 local schools and residential and commercial green waste.

“I want the bio-digester to be a cooperative so all the farmers, ranchers and restaurateurs can eventually get a return from their waste,” said Sherman, estimating that a 50 tons/day plant would need about one to two acres of land.

Gerard Kapuscik, manager of the strategic decision support group for the District, is encouraged by what he sees so far.

“So far, all the answers point that this is viable,” Kapuscik said. “We have enough waste and we’ve decided the optimal process. Now it’s about ‘where?’ ”

Kapuscik couldn’t comment on the cost of the facility, saying it depends on what type of facility is constructed and where it will be. He said the Sept. 17 meeting will report on what will be operationally and commercially viable in the Ojai Valley.

For those interested in attending, the public meeting will take place Monday, Sept. 17, at Matilija Jr. High School Auditorium, 703 El Paseo, 7-8 p.m. Admission is free.

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