Biosolids photo identifier

Event Recycling

Regulatory FAQ

Permit Coverage

How are biosolids regulated?
The Federal government and Washington State both regulate biosolids as a commodity that can be beneficially recycled on land. The state considers recycling to be the preferred method of biosolids management by statute and regulation (Chapters 70.95 RCW, Solid Waste Management Reduction and Recycle, and 70.95J RCW, Municipal Sewage Sludge-Biosolids).

The Department of Ecology administers the Washington State Biosolids Management Program. The purpose of the program is to protect human health and the environment while encouraging beneficial use of biosolids. The program consists of technical rules implemented by a permit process. Federal, state, and local authorities all have roles in biosolids regulation, as described below.

Some Washington counties have expressed interest in developing their own biosolids regulations. However, a 2014 Court of Appeals decision determined that the Legislature intended biosolids to be managed at the state level. Ecology may delegate some aspects of the state program to local health departments.

Relationship of Federal, State, and Local Programs

The federal program is from the Clean Water Act and is implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Congress directed EPA to develop science-based technical standards for biosolids (40 CFR Part 503, Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge) and implement them in permits (40 CFR Part 122). EPA can delegate authority for the federal program to states, while maintaining an oversight and guidance role.

The Washington state legislature gave the Department of Ecology authority to implement a program that meets or exceeds federal requirements (RCW 70.95J, Municipal Sewage Sludge-Biosolids). The State technical regulations in Chapter 173-308 WAC, Biosolids Management are based on the federal standards (40 CFR Part 503, Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge).

Ecology's goal is to work with local health departments as regulatory partners. Certain aspects of the state program may be delegated to a local health jurisdiction. The specific roles of Ecology and local health departments vary, depending on the delegation agreement between Ecology and each jurisdiction.

Which agency should I contact?

If you are managing a biosolids program or preparing a permit application, contact the Ecology regional office where your project is. They can tell you the roles of Ecology and the local health departments in the county where you treat, store, or apply biosolids to land.

Permit Coverage

Do you need to apply for coverage under the biosolids permit?
If you are Treatment Works Treating Domestic Sewage (TWTDS) you must obtain coverage under the state biosolids permit program. If you are not a TWTDS you are not required to obtain coverage under the state biosolids permit program.

Are you a treatment works treating domestic sewage?
A facility that treats sewage or changes the character of biosolids is a treatment works treating domestic sewage. Your facility is a treatment works treating domestic sewage if it is:
  • A publicly owned sewage treatment facility of any size.
  • A privately owned sewage treatment facility of any size.
  • A federal or state owned sewage treatment facility.
  • A septage management facility.
  • A compost facility that uses biosolids as one of the feedstocks.
  • A treatment works at an industrial facility that treats only sewage with no industrial influent.
  • A designated beneficial use facility.
  • Designated as a treatment works treating domestic sewage under WAC 173-308-310(1)(b).
Treatment works treating domestic sewage located on Native American lands should contact U.S. EPA.

You are not a TWTDS (unless you have been specifically designated) if:
  • You are a septic tank pumper who does not apply or treat septage (septic tanks and similar systems are also not considered TWTDS).
  • You use exceptional quality biosolids in a process to manufacture topsoil or soil amendments.
  • You are an industrial facility treating mixed sewage and industrial influent.
  • You only apply biosolids to the land under contract to a treatment works.
  • You only own land where biosolids are applied.
What is the purpose of the biosolids general permit?
This permit authorizes beneficial use of biosolids, transfer of biosolids within a facility or from one facility to another, storage of biosolids, and disposal of biosolids in municipal solid waste landfills. This general permit establishes the conditions that must be met, according to Chapter 173-308 WAC, Biosolids Management.

Facility types required to apply for coverage under this permit are:
  • Publicly owned treatment works,
  • Privately owned treatment works treating only domestic wastewater,
  • Industrial facilities that treat domestic wastewater separately from the industrial waste stream and generate biosolids,
  • Beneficial use facilities,
  • Composting facilities that compost non-exceptional quality biosolids that do not have an adequate permit issued by the local health jurisdiction,
  • Septage management facilities,
  • Other facilities designated by the department as a treatment works treating domestic sewage as described in the general permit.
What's the difference between the General Permit and my Letter of Coverage?
The general permit is a permit for a group of similar activities at diverse locations. Once issued, many facilities can be covered under a single general permit quickly and efficiently. A general permit is appropriate when the characteristics of the operation are similar and a standard set of permit requirements can effectively provide environmental protection.

The General Permit for Biosolids Management is a 5 year permit. A letter of coverage is a letter written specifically for your facility. It supplements the General Permit and includes any extra conditions required for your facility. Individual letter of coverage under the General Permit will be valid until the General Permit expires. The Department will make a determination to approve or deny coverage under the general permit after we review your completed application and consideration of all properly submitted comments.

What's the difference between Provisional Coverage and Final Coverage?
Facilities that submit a complete application are provisionally approved to manage biosolids in accordance with the requirements of the General Permit for Biosolids Management, the state biosolids rule, and any submitted plans. Provisional coverage is valid until Ecology conducts a final review and issues a Final Coverage letter. Final Coverage may take a long time. The department works with limited resources and there are approximately 380 facilities in Washington State.

Beneficial Use Facilities are not eligible for provisional coverage and cannot manage biosolids until a Final Coverage letter has been issued.

What activities require this permit coverage?
This permit covers land application of biosolids and other processes and operations related to biosolids.

How much will permit coverage cost?
Fees vary, depending upon size and type of facility. There is a minimum fee of $880.46 per facility per year. In addition, there is a one-time $2641.38 review fee for new facilities.

Do I need to include anything with my application for coverage?
You must complete the Application for Coverage, and provide a vicinity map of the facility and any associated treatment or storage facilities, You must also include a treatment facility schematic, confirmation that SEPA and public notice requirements have been met, and a signature by an appropriate official. The following components may also be required: land application plans, monitoring data, a biosolids sampling plan, a contingency plan for exceptional quality biosolids, a temporary disposal plan, and a spill prevention/response plan. Applicants should work closely with their Ecology regional contact while preparing their application.

How long will it take to review my application for coverage?
Except for new beneficial use facilities that must receive final coverage before land application can take place, facilities that have properly applied for coverage under the permit are provisionally approved to manage biosolids in accordance with the requirements of the general permit, the state biosolids rule, and any submitted plans. Properly applying for coverage includes fulfilling the SEPA and public notice requirements.

The time frame for issuing final coverage under the permit varies. Applicants should consult their regional Ecology biosolids coordinator.

Where do I submit my application for coverage?
Submit your application to your regional biosolids coordinator and/or local health jurisdiction delegated to perform the review in accordance with regional priorities. Applicants should consult their regional biosolids coordinator for specifics.

How long is my permit coverage valid?
The General Permit is a 5 year permit. Individual facilities covered under the permit will be covered until the permit expires and Ecology issues a new permit as long as they submit a 'Notice of Intent to Continue/Obtain Coverage' no less than 180 days before the permit expires and remain in compliance with the rule, the permit, and any submitted plans.

What is the appeal process for the general permit or my final letter of coverage?
An appeal of the General Permit for Biosolids Management must be made within 30 days of its issuance. The appeal process is outlined in the General Permit.

When final coverage under the permit is issued, facilities have the right to appeal any additional conditions imposed on their operation. Appeals must be filed with the Pollution Control Hearings Board and served on the department within 30 days of receipt of the final coverage letter.

Do you need CEU's for your Wastewater Operator Certification?
Yes. The Washington Organic Recycling Council (WORC) offers a Compost Facility Operator Training (CFOT) annually each October. Upon successful completion of the training, continuing education credits (CEU's) are awarded to be put towards Ecology's Wastewater Operator Certification Program. For more information about eligible CEU's, contact Poppy Carre.