Virginia Sewage Sludge Application Regulations

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Our Day in Court on Sewage Sludge

After 6 years of fighting, on September 16, 2016, Shenandoah Riverkeeper finally had our chance to tell a state court judge in Richmond why Virginia’s statewide permit allowing farmers to apply treated sewage sludge (known as biosolids) to their fields fails to prevent overuse of sludge and pollution of nearby waterways, including the Shenandoah River. […]


In 2010, Virginia’s legislature removed any local control over the use of sewage sludge (biosolids) as a farm fertilizer. While Virginia law prohibits the application of sewage sludge in a manner that threatens health or the environment, the regulations approved by the state do not meet that high standard.

The fundamental problems with the state’s permit are the fact that it allows use of sludge on farmland on karst, a porous geologic formation that underlies much of the Shenandoah Valley. In addition, the state permit gives too much flexibility in how much sludge can be applied to one field, resulting in documented “over-application” that leads to phosphorus saturated soils and nutrient runoff into the Shenandoah and ultimately Chesapeake Bay.

We legally challenged the regulations in Richmond’s 13th Circuit Court. We won the right to continue with our case by beating a motion to dismiss due to administrative technicalities. We finally had our day in court — 6 years after we started fighting this issue — on September 16, 2016.