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A silk purse out of a sow's ear? How about fertilizer for the farm because the sewage treatment plant had to conform to an EPA standard?

That's what's going on in Orem at the wastewater facility at 1797 W. 1000 South that handles sewage from the cities of Orem and Lindon.A small belt press is compressing treated waste and separating the water from the sludge effectively enough to make it work as a fertilizer once it's mixed with wood chips and allowed to decompose.

By the end of the year, the plant will have two large compressors in a 7,500-square-foot building expansion designed to bring the facility to 1995 EPA standards by February 1995.

Then the city can sell the fertilizer, for a nominal fee, to farmers for above-ground use, saving the cost of tipping fees - at $28.50 per load - at the county landfill. At the same time, Orem recycles 15 percent to 20 percent of the sludge.

"We feel good about being able to make something useful at the same time that we cut back on what we contribute to the landfill," said Richard Manning, city public works director.

"Plus we'll meet the EPA deadline at the same time," he said.

The improvements come on the heels of a number of improvements Orem has made to try to be a better neighbor.

More aeration has considerably cut the odor at the plant.

"We discovered we were way underpowered," Manning said. "We hadn't a big enough motor to run the aerators properly."

More oxygen equals less odor, said Manning.

"Three months ago, you wouldn't have been able to stand here and stand the smell," he said.

The plant's "product" can be disposed of in three ways now: hauled to the landfill still heavy with water, transported to a facility in Salt Lake City that charges only $15.85 a load or compressed and sold as the fertilizer.

Farmers and turf farmers as well as some mining companies are interested in the fertilizer. The mine companies want the material to help reclaim mine tailing areas.

"What we're doing is the ideal and what the EPA wants," said Manning.

Plant trimmings collected during the spring cleanup in Orem are the fodder for the chips, and Manning said much more can be utilized.

The chips, added to the compressed sludge, decompose quickly and make a rich nitrogen mulch.

The water left over goes into Utah Lake, said Manning.