For decades, Island County has been treating the watery brown stuff that’s pumped out of thousands of septic systems in incorporated areas and then partnering with farmers to spray it onto fields.
But the stigma attached to fertilizing with human-made biosolids has caused the county to look at other options for disposal.
One option is for the county to use its own property. As a result, the county is in the process of purchasing a field on Zylstra Road where biosolids can be spread, according to county officials.
In addition, officials are hoping to work with a farmer who will accept the rest of the treated material.
Class B biosolids contain levels of human pathogens that have been reduced to 95-99 percent. Plants with edible parts that do not make contact with the soil when harvested, such as wheat, barley, and alfalfa, can be harvested 30 days after the last biosolids application, according to the state.
A Central Whidbey farmer had been working with the county but decided a couple of years ago that the negative attitude people have about biosolids could hurt business. As a result, the county trucked the biosolids to a facility in Whatcom County, which was significantly more expensive, according to county Solid Waste Manager Joantha Guthrie.
The county has been going through a SEPA process to find an appropriate field for biosolids.
Residents in the Scenic Heights area became alarmed to see a notice about biosolids spreading in their neighborhood, but Guthrie said the field is not being considered.
Finding the right place can be tricky and can take awhile; the state Department of Ecology oversees the permitting and monitoring.
When it comes to finding the right piece of land, Guthrie said, the county has to consider soil type, surface water, wetlands and other issues.
“It has to be an actively farmed or grazed piece of property,” she said.
The Zylstra Road property will help the situation, but it’s not big enough to take the entire 2 million gallons of biosolids that come out of the county’s treatment plant each year.