An interim ordinance restricting applications of treated sewage sludge to land will once again come before the San Luis Obispo County supervisors.
If approved at their May 6 meeting, the four-year interim ordinance will be renewed for the fourth time in 10 years; county staff is getting closer to creating a permanent ordinance that would tightly limit the land application of sludge, also known as biosolids. The ordinance requires notification and approval from the health department before the application of 5 or more cubic yards, and places a cap on the total cumulative application in the county to 1,500 cubic yards in a 12-month period. Biosolids found in compost that’s already packaged and sold at nurseries and garden stores are exempt from the ordinances.
Mixing treated sewage sludge with other organic matter, composting it, and then applying it to agricultural land has been a common disposal method around the country. The process is more cost-effective than other disposal methods—depositing the treated sludge in landfills requires disposal costs, moving it to a facility brings transportation costs, and creating a facility to incinerate the waste or process the methane for fuel requires a large infrastructure investment and maintenance costs.
Land application has been an issue of great concern for environmentalists, agriculturalists, and public health advocates, because the treated sludge can contain heavy metals, pathogens, chemical pollutants, and synthetic organic compounds.
The supervisors first approved the interim ordinance in 2004, after two different taskforces undertook an analysis of the risks of applying sewage sludge and how to effectively deal with the matter. Since then, the interim ordinance has twice been renewed in its temporary form, once after plans for creating a permanent ordinance were delayed during the recession to avoid the high cost of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process.
The county is now prepared to pursue an EIR necessary for a permanent ordinance, with an estimated cost of $200,000. Public health staff will also present a work plan at the May 6 meeting, outlining steps necessary to prepare a permanent ordinance.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay