“We view this facility as an important investment in long-term, reliable infrastructure that is critical to our ability to provide our vital wastewater treatment services,” said Ann Heil, section head of reuse and compliance for the districts.
More than a decade ago, Los Angeles County sanitation officials made a deal with a Central Valley farmer that seemed to solve an intractable problem for both sides.
The 11 wastewater treatment plants operated by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County were producing nearly half a million tons a year of treated sewage sludge from human waste, and it had to be disposed of somehow.
Meanwhile, Westlake Farms, a large agricultural operation near Kettleman City in Kings County, was struggling with both financial troubles and poor soil.
They entered into a deal to build a composting plant on the farmland, where the biosolids would be mixed with wood chips and other green waste to turn the sludge into fertilizer that would meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency safety standards.
The fertilizer then would be used by the farm to grow crops such as cotton, wheat and alfalfa.
The sanitation districts — which manage wastewater and solid waste for 78 cities in Los Angeles County, not including the city of Los Angeles — spent $130 million to buy the land and build the plant, which finally opened earlier this year. But after the lengthy delays in starting, it is producing a fraction of the compost that had been projected. Now, the sanitation districts are embroiled in a legal fight with the farmer.