The Washington Department of Ecology has issued a draft statewide general permit for biosolids management and is asking the public to provide comment. Biosolids are the organic matter left over after domestic or municipal sewage is treated at a wastewater treatment plant or septage management facility. Once processed, they are land applied and used to grow crops like wheat, corn, grass, hay, and hops.
Ecology has issued a statewide general permit since 1992, when the Legislature passed a law recognizing that biosolids are a valuable commodity and establishing a program to reuse biosolids in a manner that minimizes the risk to public health and the environment. The law directs Ecology to regulate biosolids management and to maximize their beneficial use.
The permit requirements governing biosolids operations have been updated several times in the years since the law was passed. Now, Ecology has drafted the fifth statewide general permit for biosolids management and is seeking public review and input. All public comments must be received no later than July 1, 2021. Ecology will consider all feedback before a final decision is made, and plans to release a revised statewide permit for final public review later this year.
About the draft permit
The draft permit launches a new approach to authorizing biosolids operations in Washington. The draft permit streamlines some requirements, reducing the regulatory burden for about half of the 375 or so facilities in the state without compromising environmental protections. The permit was also reorganized to improve efficiency, and implements online reporting so that information collected by Ecology – like facility reports – is available immediately.
What are biosolids?
Biosolids are the organic matter left over after domestic or municipal sewage is digested by bacteria. Rich in organic material and nutrients, biosolids are used by farmers across Washington to grow a variety of crops. Proper oversight, testing, and application ensures biosolids benefit farmers and soil without leaching nutrients into surface or groundwater.