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Why the Nipomo sewage plant is stinking up the drive along Highway 101

An aerial view of the Southland Wastewater Treatment Plant, which has treated Nipomo’s sewage since 2014, shows its proximity to Highway 101. When the plant isn’t operating optimally, the smell wafts toward drivers.
An aerial view of the Southland Wastewater Treatment Plant, which has treated Nipomo’s sewage since 2014, shows its proximity to Highway 101. When the plant isn’t operating optimally, the smell wafts toward drivers.

Nipomo’s wastewater treatment plant is smelling less than fresh these days — in fact, some are saying the plant smells a little, well, ripe.

Drivers on Highway 101 and those living in the area have recently reported a “manure-y” or earthy smell coming from the area of the Southland Wastewater Treatment Facility south of Nipomo, where the Nipomo Community Services District treats sewage from the town sewer system.

According to the district’s director of engineering and operations, Peter Sevcik, the odor is coming from the plant’s drying beds, where biosolid, or sludge, is dried out in concrete-lined ditches using evaporation. The dried-out sludge is then trucked to a composter in Santa Barbara County.

Because of the rainy winter this year, the biosolid didn’t dry out as it was supposed to, and the district was unable to haul sludge from the beds. This led to a buildup in the eight beds being used. (For reference, each of the beds holds around 7,100 cubic feet — or 201,000 liters.)

The district is periodically mixing the beds in an attempt to speed up the drying process, but the stirring produces that less-than-pleasant odor people have noticed in the vicinity.

Sevcik said the district plans to be able to remove the sludge in the next six to eight weeks.

So maybe consider holding your nose the next time you drive past Nipomo — at least until those things dry out.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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