When confronted with big problems – problems that have no easy solution – we might feel overwhelmed. Climate change can make some of us feel that way. But every action helps, whether it is small or big. There are things you can do and there are things we as your utility can do.
As a clean water utility, confronting climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change impacts is one of our top priorities. Climate change will impact many of the things we care about the most in this region: our health, safety, economy, and environment.
To support this important work, some of our employees this week attended WEFTEC, the world’s largest gathering of water and wastewater industry experts. WEFTEC provides extensive educational opportunities and unparalleled access to the field’s most cutting-edge technologies, which helps us improve our operations and services, including new ideas to help us fight climate change.
Also at WEFTEC this year, we received national recognition as a Utility of the Future for the recovery and beneficial use of our Loop® biosolids. The Utility of the Future program celebrates the achievements of forward-thinking, innovative water and wastewater utilities that embrace practices that improve local communities.
“Loop is a soil builder and fertilizer replacement that is made from cleaning and recycling the waste that goes down our drains and toilets,” said Ashley Mihle, a WTD project manager. “It used to be poop, but it goes into a big heated tank and just like your stomach, bacteria (and other microorganisms) break down the material. What comes out is a product that plants love.
“Farmers and foresters have used Loop for more than 40 years. The innovative thing about Loop is that it helps us fight climate change. Each year, we offset around 40,000 tons of CO2 equivalents, which is like taking 8,000 cars of the road.”
This matters to our community. In the Pacific Northwest, we saw a wet winter that crushed rain records. It was the wettest winter in more than 100 years of record-keeping, followed by a summer where it did not rain for 56 days. This summer, much of the western U.S. burned while the East Coast was hit by hurricane after hurricane, devastating communities across the county. This was just unexpected weather this year, but climate predictions show that extreme weather will become more and more common.
Some changes, like more frequent and prolonged summer heat events, will disproportionately impact residents of color and those with lower incomes who already experience higher exposure to air pollution and prevalence of health conditions like asthma.
Here at King County, there are many actions we are taking to confront climate change. Loop is just one of them, but Loop makes a big difference. Creating Loop produces biogas (methane gas), which we capture and use as a renewable alternative to natural gas. Our treatment plants are essentially powered (in part) by poop!
When Loop leaves our treatment plants, it goes to lucky farmers and foresters in our region. A small amount is sent to a private composter to make GroCo compost, which has been used throughout the Pacific Northwest for decades. Returning nutrients and organic matter to the soil with carbon-rich Loop allows us to increase plant growth, reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers, and increase carbon storage in the soil.
Returning nutrients and carbon back to our land through Loop is something we do to fight climate change. You probably didn’t know that every day when you flush your toilet, you are helping to fight climate change. You are sending us a resource that we can use to return carbon and nutrients back to the land — to grow food for our community.
“WTD is honored to receive the Utility of the Future recognition, which not only supports our work turning waste into resources and confronting climate change, but also supports King County’s efforts to be a Best Run Government for our community,” said Sandy Kilroy, WTD’s Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer.