New Sewage Sludge Regulations Raise Concerns

A July 4 Baltimore Sun article discusses the concerns raised by agriculture and local governments over proposed Department of Agriculture regulations that would restrict when and how farmers could apply sewage sludge to their farmland.  Some counties and municipalities regularly dispose of their sewage sludge by providing it to farmers and under the new regulations may either have to construct expensive holding facilities, dispose of the sludge in landfills, or sent it out of state.

The rules, which have yet to be formally proposed, would, among other things, curtail the practice of fertilizing grain crops that are planted in the fall. They would also require farmers to keep livestock and fertilizer from 10 feet to 35 feet back from streams, ditches and ponds. And they would bar wintertime spreading of animal manure or sewage sludge, unless it’s injected or worked into the soil to keep it from washing off.  …

Valerie Connelly, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, called the draft regulations “hugely problematic” and said they would make it impossible for some to farm.  …

But Russell Brinsfield, executive director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Agro-Ecology near Queenstown, said the proposed curbs are generally warranted. He called it a “bold move” by the state to propose changing the “nutrient management” regulations, and said he’s not surprised they’re getting “substantial blowback.”

“We’ve done the easy things,” he said, to limit farm runoff. “Now we’re doing things that are going to have to be a little painful.”  …

Operators of sewage treatment plants said the limits would effectively bar them from putting sewage sludge on farm fields most of the year, forcing them to build costly storage facilities, dispose of it in landfill space or truck it out of state. Many of the state’s counties and municipalities contract to have the treated sludge from their sewage plants trucked away and spread as fertilizer on croplands.

Anne Arundel County, for instance, estimates it would have to spend $30 million to build a facility large enough to hold all the sludge its sewage plants generate in winter, according to a letter from the Maryland Association of Municipal Wastewater Authorities. While some might be disposed of in landfills, those facilities can’t accommodate all that’s generated, the group says.

Association President Julie Pippel argued that the restriction is unwarranted, because state-financed upgrades of the largest sewage plants are reducing the nutrient content of the sludge.

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