An innovative program to remove manure from the North Bosque and Leon River watersheds is making a difference. Since its inception in October 2000, about 590,000 tons of dairy cattle manure from 90 dairies has been hauled from the dairies, composted and shipped out of the watersheds.

The program, which was designed to help reduce water pollution, was brought to life with federal funds and is administered by the state. So far the largest customer for the dairy compost is the Texas Department of Transportation who has used the compost to establish roadside erosion control and silt control projects. The goal however, is a composting program that can stand on it’s own two feet financially. State agencies are looking to expand the market for the compost.

So far, about $15 million in state and federal funds have been used in the program. The funds are filtered down to the Texas Soil and Water Conservation Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “319” program. The 319 designation refers to a section of the Clean Water Act that deals with pollution from farms or from storm runoff.

The two state agencies use the funds to pay truckers to haul manure from the dairies to seven composting sites mostly located in Erath County, and to develop markets for the compost. In addition state and local agencies that purchase the compost can receive a rebate of $5 per cubic yard.

Anxiously watching this pilot program is the city of Waco. The city’s concerns over water quality and dairy waste from upstream polluting Lake Waco — the city’s water supply — have intensified the past few years. The city has even been purchasing compost from the project.

Although the program has been deemed a success so far, the biggest question looming is whether or not the dairy composting industry will survive when the federal funds currently supporting it run out.

Waco Tribune-Herald