California Court Strikes Down Ban on Land Application of Biosolids – 2016

Following a May 2016 trial, the Tulare County Superior Court invalidated a 2006 Kern County voter initiative that banned the land application of biosolids (treated wastewater sludge) to farmland in Kern County. For more than 20 years, the City of Los Angeles has used biosolids as a fertilizer and soil amendment on a 4,700-acre City-owned farm in the county, where it has grown feed crops supplied to Kern County dairies.
The Court ruled that “the overwhelming weight of the evidence is that there is no basis in fact for any determination that land application of biosolids poses any risk to Kern County residents,” and “There is no evidence of risk to human health.” This decision was based on results of extensive monitoring and site investigations, and testimony about the potential for adverse impacts of biosolids on soil and groundwater. Because the ban did not have any substantial relation to public welfare, the court ruled that it was an invalid exercise of the county’s police power under the California constitution.
The judge determined that the biosolids ban “is invalid and void for all purposes, for the dual reasons that it exceeds Kern’s police power authority and is preempted by state law.” The Court ruled that the California Integrated Waste Management Act (CIWMA), which requires that all local governments in California promote and maximize recycling, was controlling over a local voter initiative and thus preempted Measure E.
This case is believed to be the first court trial focused on potential benefits and impacts of recycling biosolids on farmland, a practice used by many U.S. cities for decades. The court opinion is available at