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County Executive's Office

Dane County Selects Wisconsin Company to Install Technology Turning Manure into Drinkable Water

October 21, 2015
Stephanie Miller, 608-267-8823
County Executive

                          Cutting Edge Technology Latest in Dane County’s

                                  Comprehensive Effort to Clean Lakes


MADISON- Dane County will deploy a new system to essentially eliminate phosphorus from cow manure while turning the manure into water clean enough to drink, if a provision in County Executive Joe Parisi's 2016 budget is adopted this fall. The County has selected a Wisconsin company, Aqua Innovations of Beloit, to install this cutting-edge manure treatment system at the site of the highly successful "Cow Power" digester just outside of Middleton owned by Gundersen Health System.


One pound of phosphorus is powerful enough to grow 500 pounds of toxic algae.  Manure contains phosphorous and due to Dane County’s large family farm economy, phosphorus reduction is critical to the effort to clean up our lakes.  Manure digesters remove about 60% of the phosphorus found in manure.  The new system achieves nearly 100% phosphorus removal.  This means less phosphorus filled manure and digester byproduct being spread on fields sensitive to runoff in the Yahara watershed. 


Dane County Executive Parisi has included funds in his budget next year - $500,000 - to pay for construction of a facility to house the technology.  Dollars for the technology and system - known in the industry as a "nutrient concentration system" - were approved in the County Executive's prior budgets and depending on a final contact with Aqua Innovations will cost an estimated $1.3 million.


"From the very basic like working with farmers on how fields are planted, to the very complex like this system that processes brown waste product into purified, clear water, we know it will take a wide range of solutions for us to have continued progress in cleaning the Yahara Chain of Lakes," Parisi said.


Should the final dollars needed for the new phosphorus eliminating technology be approved in the county budget this fall, construction of the new technology could get underway in early 2016.  Pending County Board approval of a contract with Aqua Innovations, the system would be activated in 2016 and begin purifying the manure byproduct of digestion process.


“As a Wisconsin-based company, Aqua Innovations is excited and honored to partner with Dane County to help the county, its citizens and farmers use our technology which has been proven 100% effective at turning manure into clean water for the past 10 years,” said Joe Cecala, CEO of Aqua Innovations.  Aqua Innovations has engineered and manufactured water treatment systems globally that increase usable water and increase human survival with a special concentration on using its new and transformative technology to eliminate agricultural waste and pollutants in the dairy industry.

The County Executive's budget for 2016 also includes dollars to study the feasibility of developing a similar system at the site of the Waunakee Digester.


"The future is now in our fight to clean up our lakes and I look forward to working with homegrown, Wisconsin innovators on taking our next bold step as leaders in cleaning our lakes," Parisi concluded.


In addition to two digesters which remove an estimated 100,000 of phosphorous per year out of manure, Dane County and its partners took an additional 4,000 pounds of phosphorus out of the Lakes Mendota and Monona watersheds in 2014 through a variety of on-the-farm practices.

The project now in its second year of operation consists of digesters and generators to create energy.  Cow manure from Blue Star Dairy Farms, Hensen Brothers Dairy and Ziegler Dairy Farms is processed in three air-tight digester tanks.  The facility generates approximately 16 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually which is added to the local grid in Dane County through Madison Gas and Electric.  The electricity purchased by MGE is enough to power approximately 2,500 homes.


Because of the methane released by untreated manure, the digester will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The state DNR estimates that by treating manure and generating renewable electricity, the digester will reduce climate-changing emissions by 22,000 tons per year – equivalent to the CO2 emissions from over 4,000 cars.