Matt Driscoll

'We need more Super Bowl Sundays,' says man who turns what Tacoma flushes into soil

Dan Eberhardt says he could use a few more Super Bowl Sundays.

Eberhardt’s official title is biosolids supervisor for the City of Tacoma’s environmental services department.

That means he’s in charge of making Tagro.

Recently, Eberhardt has been playing catch-up. The city essentially ran out of Tagro a few weeks ago. Since then, gardeners have been turned away from the city’s Tagro facility.

Until early next month, there’s no Tagro to be had, Eberhardt says.

Tagro — short for “Tacoma Grow” — is an award-winning, nutrient-rich soil that now comes in three varieties. Since 1991, the nearly one-of-kind product has been made from, well, the biosolids Tacoma produces.

That means it’s made from our poop.

Which brings us back to Super Bowl Sunday.

Eberhardt says the annual beer- and nacho cheese-fueled celebration is a notoriously “high volume” day at Tacoma’s wastewater treatment plants — which is kind of funny but also good for making Tagro.

“You’ll see flows go up at halftime,” Eberhardt says. “Everybody’s eating and drinking and having a good time.”

Adolescent jokes aside, Tacoma’s Tagro shortage is no laughing matter — at least for local gardeners who’ve come to depend on it. Eberhardt says this is only the second time in the program’s nearly three-decade history that they’ve run out.

The first time was 2015.

Now, three years later, they’re out again.

Eberhardt says the most recent shortage is a result of Tagro’s growing popularity and unusually nice weather this spring, leading to an uptick in yard work.

At the same time, Eberhardt says the one sure way to prevent Tagro shortfalls in the future is to find more biosolids.

In terms of what Tacoma produces — usually over 20 million gallons of sewage a day — there’s not much that can be done to generate an increase, Eberhardt says. (That’s either unfortunate or fortunate, depending on how you look at it.)

“We really don’t have control of the volumes that come into the plant,” Eberhardt explains.

The conundrum has helped renew preliminary conversations about the possibility of acquiring additional biosolids from other municipalities, Eberhardt says.

Doing so would likely involve trucking it in and then converting it to Tagro — which involves a lot of biology and a crude but delicate process of heating it up, cooling it down, squeezing the water out and then mixing it with sand, sawdust and aged black bark.

Currently, Eberhardt says, Tacoma produces 4,000 dry tons of biosolids every year, which helps make 40,000 to 50,000 cubic yards of Tagro.

“It is a lot,” Eberhardt acknowledges, but “it’s not a lot when you’ve got customers clamoring for it.”

That has certainly been the case this year, and it’s a trend Eberhardt expects to continue.

Prior to spring, Eberhardt had “15,000 cubic yards or so” of Tagro ready for the gardening masses.

“It was essentially gone by June,” he says.

First, that meant shutting down the famed Tagro “free pile.” Next, customers who wanted to purchase Tagro at the facility started to be turned away. Finally, once all the city’s existing delivery obligations were met, new deliveries were pushed into July.

“They’re upset. And rightly so,” Eberhardt says of the reaction from customers. “I understand why they would be upset, but they also have to understand that by running out it puts true value to the product.”

The good news for Eberhardt and anyone who wants to get their hands on the popular Class A biosolid product is that by next month the city’s Tagro operation should be back up and running like normal.

“Have no fear — we’ll be back in business shortly,” Eberhardt assures. “We’ll still be here. We’ll always be here.”

As long as Tacoma keeps producing biosolids, that is.

Which seems like pretty a safe bet.