- Tulare County, CA Superior Court Judge Lloyd Hicks has struck down the 2006 Measure E ballot initiative that banned the use of biosolids from Los Angeles on farmland in Kern County. Hicks wrote that the measure "is invalid and void for all purposes, for the dual reasons that it exceeds Kern’s police power and is preempted by state law," as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
- The city of Los Angeles has owned a 4,700-acre farm in Kern County since 1999 where it sent biosolids from sewage treatment facilities to be used as fertilizer. While Kern County residents raised concerns about the environmental effects of this practice, Hicks ruled that there was "no evidence of risk to human health."
- So far the decision has been applauded by the city as well as the organics recycling community. The Kern County Board of Supervisors could potentially appeal this decision though their legal avenues are limited.
The group of public agencies, farmers and contractors which joined Los Angeles in this lawsuit were strong advocates for the practice when it eventually went to trial earlier this year. Hicks' decision that the California Integrated Waste Management Act, intended to promote recycling, preempted the ballot initiative is a major victory for their respective industries.
Co-digesting food or yard waste with sewage in wastewater treatment plants is seen as an increasingly viable solution, particularly in cities, for processing organic material. Yet these types of safety concerns have caused some cities to landfill their biosolids or avoid co-digestion entirely.
James Slaughter, an attorney for the firm Beveridge & Diamond which represented Los Angeles, told Waste Dive this decision sets a precedent that can apply to permitted co-digestion facilities as well.
"The Kern decision will have nationwide influence because it is the first trial where a full evidentiary record was developed and decided on regarding the safety of land application," he said. "The safety and environmental issues are largely the same everywhere."
This follows a unanimous 2015 decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the land application of biosolids is a "normal agricultural operation." While that was notable, Slaughter said the Kern suit is seen as having greater effect on a national level.
“I think a lot of counties across the country were looking at the Kern county case," he said. “Any locality in the U.S. that bans land applications of biosolids does so at its own peril."