The Washington Department of Ecology’s updated biosolids general permit launches a more streamlined approach to approving biosolids operations across Washington. Biosolids are the rich organic matter left over after domestic sewage is treated at a wastewater management facility.
The new permit is reorganized to reduce the time it takes to approve or deny proposals, statewide. New requirements will increase environmental protections at all facilities with above-ground tanks and special detention lagoons, and improving communications between the state’s biosolids operations and Ecology is emphasized throughout the document. The permit is effective July 15, 2022, and expires in 2027.
“Maintaining a strong and efficient regulatory process is important as we continue developing systems to coordinate and improve management of all organic waste in Washington,” said Laurie Davies, manager of Ecology’s Solid Waste Management program. “Biosolids are a valuable resource that save all of us millions of dollars every year when they are diverted from expensive landfills to beneficial uses, like low-cost fertilizer and compost.”
Replacing petrochemical fertilizer with biosolids to help grow crops like wheat and trees returns essential nutrients to the land that are often stripped during normal agricultural practices. Proper oversight, testing, and land application ensures biosolids benefit farmers and soil without leaching nutrients into surface or groundwater.
Ecology can increase protections at individual sites
The statewide permit sets the minimum regulatory requirements Washington biosolids operations must meet in their day-to-day activities. Because environmental conditions vary from one biosolids facility to another, the general permit also enables Ecology to increase environmental protections or establish more stringent biosolids management requirements based on each facility’s location, topography, climate, or other factors.
The new permit refocuses Ecology’s resources on facilities with active, often complicated operations by reducing the administrative burden for existing facilities not actively treating or applying biosolids to land. Many of these less complicated operations are located in small communities that lack funding for robust biosolids programs. Any proposal for a new operation or substantial changes to a current operation will require an application or permit modification.
Ecology released a draft permit and accepted public comments on the draft general permit in 2021, then used that feedback to prepare the final permit language. The public has 30 days to appeal the permit to Washington’s Pollution Control Hearings Board before it becomes effective. More information is available on our biosolids webpage.