The county has taken the first steps to remove garbage-contaminated water, known as leachate, from Ashe County’s sanitary landfill.
When leachate begins to pool in the landfill, it normally seeps into the ground. At that point, a system of underground pipes moves the contaminated water to a pond called the “leachate lagoon,” which is designed to hold roughly a half-a-million gallons of water.
The leachate sits in the pond until it can be transferred to West Jefferson’s water treatment plant.
However, because of recent flooding, the county’s sanitary landfill has collected three times more water than the pond is able to hold, leaving the contaminated water mixed in with the landfill’s garbage.
The landfill takes precautions against rain water spilling into garbage by building a dirt wall to separate them. However, the flooding was heavy enough to overwhelm the wall, causing the water to spill over into the garbage.
With this in mind, Scott Hurley, the Ashe County environmental services director, reported to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners he has hired a company from Winston-Salem to help them remove the leachate before it runs off into nearby streams.
“We can’t afford it going in the river,” said Hurley, fearing the cost of environmental damages. Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell later said “we would receive fines from Department of Environment and Natural Resources if we allow contaminants into water sources.”
As the Winston-Salem company continues to remove about 12,000 gallons of leachate per day at the cost of more than $1,500 per trip, the leachate removal is becoming expensive.
After explaining this to the commissioners, Hurley said he had decided to purchase a tanker trailer in order to assist with the leachate removal.
“That decision (to purchase the tanker trailer) had already been made as he had money in his budget so it did not have to be a new appropriation. We were just reporting to the commissioners,” said Mitchell.
Accounting for the purchase of the new tanker trailer and hauling the 83 loads themselves, Hurley said the county will still save between $97,000-$100,000, making the new tanker trailer a money saving investment long-term.
Hurley said the worst-case scenario for leachate removal could cost the county as much as $292,000.
Hurley also said he has considered developing four new trenches inside the landfill, which should help hold more leachate without runoff in the future.
“The drilling of holes into existing garbage in an area that has been closed allows us an additional space to place the leachate. It slowly seeps through the old garbage and is somewhat a place-holder as we deal with an abundance of this liquid,” said Mitchell after the meeting.
At the end of the discussion, Commissioner William Sands asked Hurley if the landfill will continue to have water issues moving forward.
Hurley said as more garbage is added to the landfill, leachate will soaking into the soil more slowly, holding the leachate for a longer period before being moved to the leachate lagoon, and eventually moving to the water treatment plant.
“It will get better as time goes on,” said Hurley.