County: Let's ban all sludge
Nevermind lawsuits, say supervisors trying to draft tough policy
By GRETCHEN WENNER, Californian staff writer
e-mail: [email protected]

Posted: Tuesday May 10th, 2005, 11:45 PM
Last Updated: Tuesday May 10th, 2005, 11:46 PM

Don't laugh, but the first draft of Kern's sludge ban has an almost revolutionary ring to it: "In
order to promote the general health, safety and welfare of Kern County and its inhabitants ... the
land application of Biosolids shall be prohibited in the unincorporated area of Kern County."
Supervisors headed straight into the jaws of a formidable beast Tuesday, setting sights on a total
sludge ban here.

In doing so, they shrugged off towering opponents: coastal giants with deep pockets and political
clout, including Los Angeles and Orange counties and the city of Los Angeles, along with the
biosolids industry and even the federal government.

The ban invites a lawsuit, just as they've been sued for the last six years by Southland sewage
districts that haul nearly a third of California's sludge, or treated human and industrial sewage, to

And don't expect the sludge trucks to stop tomorrow. The ban probably wouldn't take effect for
two years.

"It has been debated and debated and debated," said Supervisor Michael Rubio. "So I'd like to
send a very clear message today ... as to what alternative we are looking at: the ban on all land
application in unincorporated areas in Kern County."

Supervisors planted their defiant flag even as a contingent of sludge interests sat in the
audience: representatives from Southern California sanitation districts and from Synagro
Technologies Inc., the Houston company building a massive sludge-composting plant outside

None of them spoke, and they declined comment after. But the districts, along with private
interests like Synagro, are working feverishly behind the scenes to quash anti-sludge regulations.

A May 6 letter from industry group the California Association of Sanitation Agencies, for example,
asks members to take action against proposed legislation from state Sen. Dean Florez, the
Shafter Democrat.

"While we understand Senator Florez is working hard to gain support for his bill, we are working
just as hard to oppose it," reads the letter from the association's executive director and lobbyist,
Mike Dillon.

The note included an alert sent to "each of our 40 senators" and asked for more support: "We
are requesting every member agency send an opposition letter to their Senator for delivery no
later than Wednesday May 11th."

Signature lines for 10 lobbyists show widespread interest in blocking Florez's Senate Bill 926,
which would give Kern legal protection against lawsuits arising from a biosolids ban.

The bill, already whittled down by a Senate committee May 3, will be opposed by lobbyists
representing city and county officials in Los Angeles, Oxnard, San Diego and Alameda County as
well as lobbyists for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency and
sewage districts in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

While biosolids supporters tout land application as a beneficial way to recycle sewage,
opponents claim unknown health threats lurk in the muck, especially in the 100,000 or so
chemicals distilled in industrial waste.

Kern's Board of Supervisors unanimously backed the possible ban with a 4-0 vote. (Jon
McQuiston was absent, still recovering from a staph infection.)

The issue now goes to county environmental officials, who will prepare an environmental report.

Separately, in emergency closed session, the board unanimously voted to take another bold stab
at sludge, Chairman Ray Watson announced.

Watson read aloud a letter being sent to the Fresno City Council asking for a full environmental
review before the city approves a sludge contract with Kern farmer Shaen Magan.

The contract would result in up to 50,000 wet tons of sludge being spread on Kern farmland.
Fresno officials had been slated to approve the deal Tuesday, but postponed a decision after
Kern officials and Florez protested last week.