Wednesday, May 21, 2014

High weird

No one wants dirty water. Pollution mitigation and prevention is a good thing. The devil, as usual, is in the details. State and federal mandates and regulations designed to protect the environment are far too complicated, expensive and, sometimes, seemingly contradictory, even right here in little ole Goochland.

In April, the Board of Supervisors voted against taking on the task of enforcing new state-mandated storm water runoff control regulations—for now. They expect to revisit the matter later this year in the hopes that the state will have clarified its own rules.

During a public hearing on April 21, some land owners and developers encouraged the county to take on this function, which would require adding a new engineer to the community development staff. Fees levied on permits would offset some of that cost. Instead, for now, those permits will be handled by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which will complicate, and lengthen, most construction projects.

The storm water control mandates will allegedly protect further pollution of Chesapeake Bay by dramatically reducing the amount of nasty things, especially the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous, that might be washed into local waterways and make their way to the Bay. Too many nutrients upset the balance of the ecosystem and threaten fish and shell fish habitats. Given the fall off in the oyster and blue crab populations, for instance, this is not an unreasonable concern.

At its May meeting, the supervisors voted unanimously amend a zoning ordinance to add, as a conditional use by special exception, storage of biosolids in DEQ sanctioned facilities and to approve a conditional use permit for biosolids storage on an 1,800 acre cattle farm off of Chapel Hill Road owned by Paul Lanier, who has a contract to apply the substance.

Biosolids, processed waste products from wastewater treatment plants in Richmond, Chesterfield, and Henrico, are applied to selected agricultural sites in Goochland, which hold DEQ issued permits for application of this substance.

Regulations for application of biosolids, which are made available to farmers at no cost, require that the substance be applied in a manner that prevents it from washing into waterways. (Visit for more complete information.) This includes site topography, distance from a waterway, and time of year. According to remarks made by Lanier during hearings before both the Planning Commission and Supervisors, this year’s damp spring complicated the application process, because many fields were too wet to accommodate application equipment.

Biosolids are applied to fields, forests, and land reclaimed from mining operations. In addition to adding nutrients to the soil, biosolids change the composition of soil making it resistant to erosion, which should help to prevent water pollution.
Opponents of biosolids application contend that the substance may be responsible for health issues and raise concerns about the accumulation of heavy metals over time. Much of the research supporting biosolids application seems to have been funded by companies like Synagro and Nutri-blend that are in the biosolids application business. (Visit for more detailed information.)

Before they become incorporated into the soil, biosolids smell, which does not necessarily mean they are bad, but, if you live near a field being treated, the odor can be offensive.

Virginia law allows application of biosolids if done in accordance with state regulations. Localities have very limited power to regulate--and cannot ban—application of biosolids in their jurisdiction.

Biosolids are transported from waste water treatment plants to fields in large tractor trailers. As the application sites are in rural areas--most of the permitted fields in Goochland are west of Rt. 522—this puts big, heavy trucks on roads that are often narrow and winding and better suited to smaller vehicles.

According to the DEQ website, a tractor trailer load of biosolids will treat about two acres of land. As most fields tend to larger than two acres, multiple truck loads are needed.

Lanier contended that the storage facility, which will be partially covered, have a channel system around the border to capture run off, and include a truck wash to ensure that no material falls off departing trucks, will enable more efficient application. Having a facility in which to accumulate sufficient biosolids to do an entire field will also reduce the incidence, as is now prevalent, of tractor trailers simply dumping their contents on a field and leaving it there until it can be spread around.
Applicators are allowed to leave biosolids in a field for up to seven days without spreading it around. The storage facility, where biosolids may be held for up to 45 days, eliminates this practice as the biosolids are not taken to the field until they are applied.

Complaints are monitored by DEQ.

So, one the one hand, every drop of rain that falls on a new parking lot, must be diverted from flushing into streams, yet, with proper permits, it is okay to put biosolids, AKA sewage sludge on fields.

Biosolids have to go somewhere. If they improve soil and ease the fiscal burden of farmers, so much the better. But, if you think about the juxtaposition of extreme storm water runoff management with biosolids application too hard, your hair hurts.

As DEQ runs the biosolids application show, localities have little regulatory power. Taking even the smidgen allowed by the state is a good thing.

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