Sludge piles growing on Vicksburg Harbor

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 10, 2004

[5/6/04]Mounds of a byproduct from the water treatment plant continue to grow near the end of the Vicksburg Harbor, but city officials say they are no closer to a solution.

At least two piles of lime sludge sit at the east end of E.W. Haining Road. The sludge, although good for growing vegetation, is classified as industrial waste, and the rising cost of disposal has left the city with few options.

“Right now, I don’t know what we can do,” said Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens.

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Lime sludge is what results after lime is placed in the softening unit at the municipal treatment plant.

For generations, it was dumped back into the Mississippi River until Environmental Protection Agency regulations changed five years ago. Although lime is a natural mineral and not hazardous, the EPA rules are clear. Today, the cost of disposal at a landfill can cost as much as $45 per ton.

About 450 pounds of lime a week are put in Vicksburg’s water as part of the softening process, according to Lamar Heffner, superintendent of the water plant.

Heffner said that some of the dried sludge is being hauled off by Falco Chemical and used as a fertilizer on area farms. Algae and weeds grow on the mounds at the harbor.

Leyens said that other than paying the high price for disposal, the city could seek EPA changes to allow dumping the sludge in the river. Tests of the water when the sludge was dumped into the river found little effect.

Right now, city officials say the lime is the only method of softening the local water, and failure to soften the water would not go over well with customers of the system that serves both city residents and rural water districts.

City water comes from 11 wells around North Washington Street and is iron rich, which makes it difficult to lather soap and can turn clothes orange if not treated.

The Vicksburg Water Treatment Plant operates on about $2.5 million annually and produces about 9.5 million gallons of water per day.