Water protections axed from House fertilizer quality grant bill
Development and sea level rise could wipe out more than 2 million acres of Florida farmland by 2070, according to new state study.

Planted green rows of produce in fields near Homestead, Florida.
Class B biosolids have a significant amount of toxic metals.

One person’s human solid waste is another person’s fertilizer, but the quality of that fertilizer depends on the extent of refinement put into that solid waste — or in the parlance of the industry, biosolids. 

There are Class AA, A and B biosolids, and legislation (HB 1405) on its way to the House floor encourages wastewater treatment facilities to pursue the higher-quality product.

Class B biosolids have a significant amount of toxic metals and can attract “rodents, flies, mosquitoes or other organisms capable of transporting infectious agents.”

The state tracks land application of Class B biosolids, but the state doesn’t do the same for Class AA, which raised concerns among environmental advocates. With more Class AA biosolids likely ending up on fields, they argue there’s a need to know what effect that fertilizer is having on the water.

“The grant program is subject to appropriation by the Legislature, and is meant to incentivize local community projects to accelerate Florida’s transition to higher levels of economically sustainable biosolid treatment,” Lake Placid Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck told the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee.

She introduced and received approval on a strike-all amendment that removes Section 2 of the bill. The section would have prohibited the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from authorizing application site permits for Class B biosolids within the upstream subwatershed of certain impaired waterbodies, unless the applicant can prove it wouldn’t increase the nutrient load in that subwatershed.

“I think this is the perfect example of not letting perfect get in the way of good,” Tuck said, explaining the amendment. “Section 2 had several issues where we had several stakeholders that couldn’t agree on any compromising language, and we wanted to make sure the rules promulgated by (DEP) in the last year had a chance to work before we further restrict it.”

The bill creates a biosolids grant program in DEP with which the Department can provide grants to counties and municipalities to purchase or upgrade what they need to in order to have “facilities that convert wastewater residuals to Class AA biosolids,” along with encouraging applicants to enter into public-private partnerships.

“The Legislature banned the disposal of domestic wastewater biosolids within the Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee River, and St. Lucie River watersheds unless the applicant can affirmatively demonstrate that the nutrients in the biosolids will not add to nutrient loadings in the watershed,” according to a House staff analysis.

“The prohibition against land application in these watersheds does not apply to Class AA biosolids that are distributed as fertilizer products.”

At least one-third of the grant program fund would go to projects that convert wastewater residuals into composted Class AA biosolids that meet a standard of full stabilization. Another third would go to projects that convert residuals into both Class AA biosolids and an ammonia nitrogen solution.

At least 10% of funds would go to projects in rural areas of opportunity.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


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