Sludge Watch ==> Calif: Las Virgines Sewage Plant - pricey sludge compost no one wants

maureen.reilly at maureen.reilly at
Sun Nov 20 20:00:18 EST 2005

Concern brewing over Las Virgenes compost plant
By John Loesing
Acorn Staff Writer

FREE COMPOST-Westlake Village residents Milton and Marge Court fill 5-gallon 
cans with free compost offered at Las Virgenes Municipal Water District's 
compost facility. They frequently use the material to fertilize their flower 
beds and lawn. Kellogg Garden Products will no longer market the product.

Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD) is looking for ways to market 
the tons of sludge byproduct generated each year at the Rancho Las Virgenes 
Composting Facility after receiving word that Kellogg Garden Products of 
Carson will no longer be the plant’s chief customer.

Kellogg provides the sawdust used in Rancho’s composting process and each 
year receives about 15,000 cubic yards of the compost in return. Because the 
Los Angeles County Sanitation District prohibits Kellogg from bagging the 
finished product at its Carson plant, the company ships the Rancho compost 
to Northern California where it’s bagged and sold to landscapers and garden 

Among other uses, Rancho compost helped to landscape the Getty Museum when 
it opened.

But the high cost to make the sawdust and transport compost is forcing 
Kellogg to end its contract with LVMWD in November.

"It has become cost prohibitive to continue the contract as it was," said 
Kathryn Kellogg Johnson, a company spokesperson.

"We hope to be a customer of Las Virgenes in the future. Their compost is 
extremely high quality. We’re just looking for the contractual arrangement 
to change."

Water district officials say two Orange County firms have toured the 
Calabasas facility to study possible uses for the compost.

"Ultimately we’re looking at a long term agreement with somebody to take the 
compost or take the raw biosolids away," said John Mundy, LVMWD’s director 
of facilities.

About 3,000 yards of the mulch are given to the public each year during 
Saturday morning giveaways.

The biosolids come from the nearby Tapia sewer plant, and while some is used 
as fertilizer at Rancho’s 90-acre farm on Las Virgenes Road, the bulk of the 
sludge is turned into compost. It takes about a month to turn dried 
biosolids into compost.

"The goal is ultimately to try to use it beneficially," said Norm Buehring, 
LVMWD’s director of community outreach.

"This is a market that’s going to grow. It’s in its infancy and when you’re 
in a new market, there’s fewer people who are out there. Most people feel 
it’s the right kind of business to be in."

Although the $50 million composting facility is said to be one of the finest 
in California, critics say it would be cheaper for the water district to 
skip the process altogether and ship the Tapia sewage directly to distant 

Residents complained in the past about foul smells coming from the 
composting facility.

Kern County has been a popular destination for Los Angeles County sewage 

Its desolate areas are perfect for injecting sludge into the ground, but 
Kern officials want to set new limits on importing it.

As a result, sanitation districts and water districts in Los Angeles county 
are looking for other ways to dispose of the waste and composting is gaining 

"We have to get rid of the sludge, that’s first and foremost," Mundy said.

"We’re not going to make any money in this process. But if you avoid sending 
it to a landfill, that’s good. If you avoid shipping it all around the 
state, it certainly is beneficial."

Mundy doubts Rancho could find a cost effective way to market the compost 

In a 10-year period, Rancho will divert from local landfills enough solids 
to fill a football stadium seven stories high. The facility opened in 1994.

In a related matter, Buehring denied reports that LVMWD might be using 
Sperling Nursery in Calabasas as an outlet for unwanted compost.

The water district recently mailed $5 Sperling coupons to customers who made 
timely bill payments over a five year period.

"We have no relation with Sperling at all," Buehring said.

Other local nurseries were contacted about being included in the mailing, 
but only Sperling responded, Buehring said.

"Who’s paying for this?" asked Agoura Hills resident George Wuenschel.

"Something smells real funny here."

The water district had a workshop scheduled this week on odor control at the 
composting facility.

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