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Pilot project turns manure into clean water for Puget Sound salmon

Runoff from farms has been a major source of pollution in waters around Puget Sound over the years, but new technology is helping make farms more fish friendly.

Being a dairy farmer is dirty work, but Galen Smith knows to make the most of it.

"We take what Mother Nature gives us," said Smith.

What Mother Nature gives Smith's Coldstream Farm in Whatcom County is about 60,000 gallons of manure a day.

Combine that with all the rain they get, and you've got toxic soup that farmers are required by law to store, so it doesn't contaminate nearby waterways.

"Before, we would capture and have to store all those gallons," Smith said. "Now, we're putting it back to where Mother Nature intended it to be."

The farm is doing that with a new filtration machine, the first of its kind being used in Washington state.

Manure enters the system and in a matter of minutes the machine, developed by Regenis of Ferndale, turns the fetid brown muck into clean water that the cows can actually drink.

With just a bit more filtration, people could drink it, too, but the ultimate destination for this water is the local salmon stream.

Coldstream and Regenis are working together to clean 4.3 million gallons of wastewater a year from the farm and pump it into the Nooksack River where it will help keep salmon swimming during our dry summers.

"Our natural resources are very important to us, none of them are more important than clean water," said Regenis' Mike Powell. "The amount of waste we can convert with this technology is limitless."

Leftover solids are used as a concentrated fertilizer, decreasing the need for the use of chemicals. The ultimate goal at Coldstream is zero waste.

It's a pilot project funded by a $1 million grant from Washington's Conservation Commission.

If it proves successful, the farm of the future could be right here in western Washington.

"This technology, while it may not be a cookie cutter for all farms, it can be a template for what is possible," said Smith.