California Court Gives Biosolids a Boost

A court decision out of California affirming the land application of biosolids merits an article in National Law Review.

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Many courts over the years have ruled against local ordinances to ban or restrict beneficial use of biosolids.

Now a decision in a California has made what is perhaps the strongest affirmation to date. The decision was significant enough to merit an article Dec. 30 in the National Law Review. The Superior Court in Tulare County, after a two-week bench trial, invalidated a 2006 voter initiative passed in Kern County that banned land application of biosolids.

The opinion written by Judge Lloyd Hicks states that the initiative “is invalid and void for all purposes, for the dual reasons that it exceeds Kern’s police power authority and is pre-empted by state law.”

The National Law Review article stated, “The case is believed to be the first trial focused on the benefits and safety of recycling biosolids to farmland, a practice used by many of America’s largest cities for decades.”

The lawsuit against the initiative was led by the City of Los Angeles, which for decades had applied biosolids to a 4,700-acre crop farm in Kern County. Land application had been under a series of injunctions during the wait for the trial. In the lawsuit against the county, the city led a group that included public agencies in Southern California, as well as land application contractors and farmers.

The court ruled that “the overwhelming weight of the evidence is that there is no basis in fact for any determination that land application of biosolids poses any risk to Kern County residents, let alone a real and substantial risk that would be alleviated by banning such land application,” the magazine reported.

The article further stated, “The court concluded that because the biosolids ban bore no substantial relation to the public welfare, it was an invalid exercise of the county’s police power under the California Constitution.”

The court further ruled that “the California Integrated Waste Management Act, which requires that all local governments in California promote and maximize recycling, was controlling over a local voter initiative . . . Banning a commonly used and cost-efficient method of recycling and reuse is not consistent with and is destructive of the state’s policies and requirements.”

In a statement, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies said, “This litigation involved the first full-blown bench trial focused on biosolids safety. The ruling is a victory not only for the City of Los Angeles and other municipal utilities . . . but for utilities across the country that can use this strong legal precedent to protect biosolids land application as an economical and environmentally sound wastewater management practice.”


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