Responsible Biosolids Disposal

Mass application of nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich biosolids to open land is a threat to our waters.

CWC position

The solid waste from sewage treatment plants should not be spread on farmland. A six-month moratorium was put in place by Indian River County after ORCA, Pelican Island Audubon Society, and the St. Johns Riverkeeper found toxic conditions with cyanobacteria levels at 4,700 parts per million (ppm) in Blue Cypress Lake last spring.

The moratorium needs to be made permanent.

About Biosolids

Biosolids are the de-watered sewage by-product of wastewater (sewage) treatment plants. Despite the name, biosolids are predominantly water, typically containing only 20% solids.

Because they are biologically active, nutrient-rich, and contain chemical compounds as well as toxic metals, disposal of biosolids onto open land is a major threat to our waters.

Indian River County and City of Vero Beach systems responsibly dispose of their biosolids by placing them in a landfill.

Until more advanced processes are adopted, landfills remain the more responsible  disposal option because liquids are confined and captured at the bottom of the pile, and do not escape into the larger environment.  The captured leachate is then re-processed in the water treatment plant.

That said, in Florida–especially southeastern Florida–landfills are fast running out of space.  For this reason, dumping biosolids onto open land has become the least-expensive, preferred disposal method–even if it means hauling it 100 miles or more. 

If we responsibly dispose of our biosolids, how did Indian River County become a prime destination for Biosolids dumping on open farmland?

A combination of problems in Southeast Florida have combined to send biosolids waste north. 

South Florida is quickly running out of space in its solid-waste landfills.  Nutrient pollution in the Lake Okeechobee watershed also rendered land application of biosolids impossible.

After the Department of Environmental protection (DEP) stopped issuing biosolids disposal permits in the Kissimmee River/Lake Okeechobee Basin, Indian River County quietly became  the preferred dumping ground for most of the biosolids generated by sewage plants in southeastern Florida

Blue Cypress Lake, shown in better times.  The lake has been plagued with nutrient-driven algal blooms coinciding with the onset of biosolids dumping at the nearby Pressley Ranch. 

The impact of biosolids dumping here is vividly demonstrated by skyrocketing nutrient levels in Blue Cypress Lake, and the inevitable algal blooms on local waters.

Regulation of Biosolids

Land application of biosolids is generally allowed on farms and ranches under the “right to farm” provisions of Florida laws.

Biosolids are regulated through provisions of Chapter 62-640 of the Florida Administrative Code.  Please click here for a summary of the regulations.  The Florida Department of Environmental Protection awards permits for biosolids dumping under its authority as administrator of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).