Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Transportation, WaterTags , , , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County yard waste compost operation in peril

Sonoma County yard waste compost operation in peril

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s beleaguered composting program now looks likely to shut down as legal and environmental challenges facing its operation atop the Central Landfill continue to mount.
If the closure that many now see as inevitable happens, thousands of tons of yard debris will need to be hauled to facilities outside the county, with disposal fees rising sharply to pay for the additional shipping costs.
“We’re going to have out-haul. Clearly that’s the writing on the wall,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “It’s a huge disappointment, because ideally we’d like to be able to contain all of these programs and do this ourselves.”
The Sonoma County Waste Agency, a 10-member joint powers authority made up of nine cities and Sonoma County, has been struggling to contain the fallout of a federal lawsuit alleging that wastewater from the 25-acre composting operation has been polluting Stemple Creek for years.
Rainwater falls on open-air rows of compost, leaches through the piles, and is collected in what is now a 2-million gallon containment pond. During heavy rains, wastewater from the pond has spilled into the landfill’s stormwater collection system, which drains to the creek.
The lawsuit, filed by neighbors of the nearby Happy Acres subdivision, names the county, which owns the landfill, the waste agency, which leases the site, and Sonoma Compost, the private company that for more than 20 years has run the compost operation.
Read more via Sonoma County yard waste compost operation in peril | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Supervisors approve private operation of Sonoma County landfill

Supervisors approve private operation of Sonoma County landfill

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A decade after its Central Landfill was closed by water-quality regulators, Sonoma County officials signed off on a series of agreements Tuesday that represent the final step in an arduous effort to permanently transfer responsibility for the 170-acre dump to a private company.
The new agreements and amendments to existing ones mean the Arizona-based garbage company Republic Services is slated to take over operations April 1 under a 25-year deal worth an estimated $650 million.
“I think this is a good and historic day for the county in terms of what we do with our solid waste going forward,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District is home to the landfill west of Cotati.
Supervisors, who voted 5-0 on the package, expressed relief and gratitude to staff that the agreements allowing the deal to move forward had finally been struck. Rabbitt said the effort to privatize operations has been “kind of a tremendous moving puzzle” because of the way the county had to get agreement on a wide range of technical and legal issues from all the cities that send their garbage to the 44-year-old landfill.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane called it a “really fabulous agreement” that brought the county, the waste management agency, Republic and eight of the cities together to reopen the landfill long-term while creating incentive for recycling.
“Our whole goal was let’s take away the financial incentive of putting trash in the hole,” and instead encourage people to reduce and recycle, Zane said. The yearslong effort involved deep research into the best waste practices around the world, she said.
“I think we have turned over just about every single stone or piece of trash in this discussion,” she said.
The handover by April 1 was considered crucial if Republic was to be able to complete a badly needed 10-acre expansion of the landfill before the fall. Failure to complete the new cell by then could force Republic to increase the amount of garbage hauled to other counties until the new work is completed.
Read more via Supervisors approve private operation of Sonoma County landfill | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , Leave a comment on Compost helps rangeland lock up carbon

Compost helps rangeland lock up carbon

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The rolling green pastures west of Petaluma where Hank Corda stood last week in blue jeans and a camouflage ball cap are not an obvious location to mount a worldwide offensive against climate change.
No factories billow smoke on the 850-acre ranch that’s been in Corda’s family for a century, nor do many vehicles traverse the narrow road. One might surmise the only gross polluters here are the black-and-white dairy cows that graze the property.
In fact, rangelands are a major source of carbon loss through the farming techniques used for harvesting and soil management. A major key to solving the problem, researchers contend, is in the soil on a hillside below Corda’s ranch home.
There, workers dumped compost made of manure and green landscape waste to trap carbon dioxide in the ground and also absorb it from the air. The ranch, which is at the head of San Antonio Creek, is one of three test sites for a novel “carbon-farming” program that researchers say could dramatically lower greenhouse-gas emissions and blunt the effects of climate change, but only if it can be replicated on a mass scale.
The Marin Carbon Project has drawn attention from scientists around the world and, closer to home, from agricultural producers in neighboring counties. It has also caught the attention of Sacramento lawmakers, including Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, who was expected to introduce legislation Monday to expand the program in California.
Advocates say if compost was applied to just 5 percent of California’s grazing lands, the soil could capture a year’s worth of greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s farm and forestry industries.
Read more via Cleaning up with compost | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , Leave a comment on Rains send Sonoma County compost operators scrambling to stem runoff

Rains send Sonoma County compost operators scrambling to stem runoff

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Most government officials in Sonoma County welcomed the rains that began drenching the region Friday as a much-needed midwinter boost to reservoir levels following an unusually dry January.
But when big winter storms make the barometer fall, Henry Mikus’ blood pressure rises.
The executive director of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is under strict orders from state water quality regulators to reduce runoff from the 25-acre composting operation atop Sonoma County’s central landfill.
Rainwater that seeps through the open-air compost piles historically has been allowed to mingle with stormwater from other parts of the landfill, and in significant storms both get discharged into Stemple Creek.
But Mikus, under the threat of fines from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by neighbors, is overseeing an unusual effort to keep the wastewater out of the creek this winter by hauling it via tanker truck to local treatment plants.
“The truth is, it has gone better than anybody expected,” Mikus said of the work to date.
via Rains send Sonoma County compost operators scrambling | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

The bug whisperer

Kristin Ohlson, CRAFTSMANSHIP MAGAZINE
Mark Sturges doesn’t advertise and clients have to find him by word of mouth, but find him they do. He’s become a master of an agricultural art as old as agriculture itself: basic compost.
Mark Sturges handed me a pair of green plastic gloves to handle his compost, but had no qualms about plunging his own bare hands deep into one of his aluminum bins. He emerged with a dripping fistful of organic matter that would discomfit a squeamish person – say, the woman who owned the Air BnB home in Bandon, Oregon, where I stayed that night and who shrieked and shivered when I described the scene.
“Does your compost look like this?” the 67-year old Sturges asked me. No, I’ve never seen any compost that looked quite like his.
His compost reminded me of a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the 16th Century Flemish artist who loved scenes teeming with humans and other creatures—eating, working, slaying, fornicating, sleeping, gossiping, squiggling their id all over the canvas. In Sturges’s cupped hands, there was the backdrop of what most of us think of when we think about compost—a crumbling, black mass resembling dark-roast coffee grounds—plus shreds of the materials that had gone into making it: eggshells, the paper-bag-like skin of a nearly dissolved pumpkin, carrot tops, and a pouf of potato salad from the town’s organic deli. More to the point, Sturges’s entire workforce was well represented in the handful. The dark mush was visibly alive with rove beetles, spiders, daddy longlegs, tiny white worms called enchytraedae that looked like lively fingernail parings, and the gray blemish of a fungus called beauvaria bassiani, which feeds on the beetles.
“These are the best workers in the world,” Sturges said with satisfaction. “They don’t have drug problems, they don’t beat their wives—although they might eat them, of course—and they work 24 hours a day. You just have to make sure you keep them alive.”
Read more at: The Bug Whisperer – Craftsmanship Magazine

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , , Leave a comment on Garbage hauler proposes compost operation for Sonoma

Garbage hauler proposes compost operation for Sonoma

Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
For years, the solid waste hauler Sonoma Garbage Collectors has picked up the city of Sonoma’s trash and green waste for transfer to the county-owned central landfill west of Cotati, where yard trimmings are composted.
The hauler now wants to build its own composting facility in Sonoma Valley to process not only the city’s yard waste but also an assortment of food scraps that would include meats and dairy. The move would divert at least 8 tons of green waste a day from the county’s embattled compost operation, which neighbors have been trying to shut down, advancing complaints about odor and runoff polluting a nearby creek. They filed a federal lawsuit three months ago after the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency decided to keep open the 25-acre compost operation it oversees as it searches for a new site.
John Curotto Sr., president of Sonoma Garbage Collectors, said his family company sees an opportunity to add services for Sonoma customers.
While the county landfill does compost vegetables, it doesn’t take meats or dairy products, such as cheese, according to Ken Wells, a solid waste consultant who was hired to help the Curottos open their facility. That’s discouraged some businesses and residents from recycling food scraps, he said.
“Because there is a limit, that gets a lot of people to hesitate,” Wells said.
The proposed facility would take all food scraps instead of burying them in the landfill, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Wells, who served as executive director of the county’s waste management agency when it opened its composting operation in 1993.
The Sonoma waste hauler contends that a local composting operation would limit cross-county truck traffic, eliminating loads of green waste to the central landfill.
Read more via Garbage hauler proposes compost operation for Sonoma | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , Leave a comment on Landfill neighbors sue over compost operation

Landfill neighbors sue over compost operation

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Neighbors of Sonoma County’s central landfill who threatened two months ago to file a lawsuit over wastewater from compost piles polluting Stemple Creek have made good on their promise.

The group Renewed Efforts of Neighbors Against Landfill Expansion, or RENALE, filed a federal Clean Water Act suit recently against three entities involved in the 25-acre composting operation atop the landfill.

The goal of the suit is to convince a judge to do what other government agencies are either unwilling or unable to do — shut down the compost operation to protect the creek, said Roger Larsen, a resident of the Happy Acres subdivision on Mecham Road west of Cotati.

“Despite the fact they know they are polluting Stemple Creek, they decided to continue to do so,” Larsen said. “Hopefully, this suit with stop them from polluting Stemple Creek anymore.”

via Landfill neighbors sue over compost operation | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on Shutdown of Sonoma County's compost facility averted

Shutdown of Sonoma County's compost facility averted

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A shutdown of the composting facility at Sonoma County’s central landfill was averted Wednesday when the public agency in charge of the program voted to continue trying to find a way to solve the water pollution problems plaguing the site.

The alternative facing the 10-member board of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency was to begin winding down operations before the rainy season and start hauling to other counties the 100,000 tons of yard waste and food scraps collected from residents’ bins every year.

“Do we want to just stop and say, ‘No — no more compost at this point and 100 percent out-haul’?” asked Healdsburg Mayor Jim Wood, the board chairman. “Or do we want to continue working on a plan?”

He said efforts by the agency’s staff and others to find a solution had been “extraordinary” and he felt the work should be allowed to go on. State water quality regulators have tentatively endorsed a plan aimed at minimizing wastewater in the short term while efforts to find a new site for the operation move forward.

via Shutdown of Sonoma County's compost facility averted | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County composting program faces uncertain future

Sonoma County composting program faces uncertain future

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s 21-year-old composting program could be scrapped if water quality regulators don’t back off a threat to impose stiff fines for runoff that has been fouling a creek near the county’s central landfill for years.

The composting operation, which sits atop the landfill but operates independently, has until Oct. 1 to clean up its act or face millions in penalties in the event a major storm overwhelms the undersized storage ponds at the 25-acre site.

But Sonoma County Waste Management Agency officials say their solution — construction of a massive stormwater holding pond at the north end of the Mecham Road landfill — can’t possibly be designed, permitted and built by October. They say they need relief from the proposed deadline and fines before they can move forward.

If regulators don’t give them either, they warn they may have to shut down the composting operation and begin hauling yard waste out of the county, much like the county did with its garbage when the central landfill was closed by regulators in 2005.

via Sonoma County composting program faces uncertain future | Petaluma360.com | Petaluma Argus-Courier | Petaluma, CA.