A dozen North County sewage agencies took tentative steps Tuesday toward adopting a region-wide approach to handling the mounting volumes of sewage sludge, the foul-smelling byproduct of waste-water treatment.
Representatives of the various agencies agreed to draw up a draft document outlining the responsibilities of a Joint Powers Authority that might build and operate a $20-million sludge-processing plant.
Each of the agencies is expected to review the draft and then meet again in early March to decide whether to go forward with the plan.
The sewage sludge problem has become a critical issue in recent years as various landfills in San Diego County have closed their doors to sludge.
Currently, the sludge is allowed only at the Otay landfill in Chula Vista, and solid waste officials have told North County sewage agencies that they cannot expect to dump there much longer.
That sort of news has sewage officials in the North County worried. They remember when the Encina sewage-treatment plant was forced a year ago to store huge piles of nasty smelling sludge at the Carlsbad facility for several weeks during a dispute over where the sewage byproduct could be dumped.
Under the plan now being discussed by the sewage agencies in North County, a Joint Powers Authority would be formed to build a processing plant on a 70- to 100-acre site in the region. No parcel has yet been selected, but officials expect to choose next year from about a dozen potential sites.
The plant, which could be completed by the early 1990s, is expected to serve as a composting facility. During the composting process, moisture in the sludge would be drawn out and amendments such as sawdust would be added, making it potentially salable as a product for landscape gardening and other uses.
Another possible option entails a treatment plant where the sludge would merely be air-dried so it could be dumped in existing landfills. Critics say that option, while less expensive than composting, does not address the problem of dwindling landfill space throughout the Southern California area.
The agencies participating in the effort to solve the sludge problem are the cities of Escondido, Oceanside, Vista and Carlsbad; the Buena, Solana Beach and Cardiff sanitation districts; the San Marcos and Leucadia county water districts; the Encinitas Sanitary District, and the Valley Center and Rainbow municipal water districts.