City of Los Angeles & Kern County's battle over LA's sewage comes to an end

This week, Kern County supervisors decided to settle a decade-long legal battle with the City of Los Angeles over using treated sewage sludge on farm land.

Since 2000, the City of Los Angeles has owned a sludge farm south of Bakersfield, named Green Acres. The city spreads treated human and industrial waste on the farm as fertilizer.

But, in 2006 Kern County voters overwhelmingly voted in support of Measure E, which banned the application of human and industrial sewage waste, or biosolids, on open farmland. Over 80 percent of the county's voters voted in support of the measure.

Los Angeles and other Southern California sewer treatment agencies sued to block the law, sparking the legal battle that is just now ending this week. Kern County decided to settle to avoid paying further legal costs. 

Take Two spoke with James Burger, County Government Reporter for The Bakersfield Californian who has covered this story for the past 11 years. 

According to Burger, county residents were initially against the biosolid because it contains some materials that the EPA doesn't regulate, and that could have an unknown health risk.

After the county passed Measure E, Los Angeles and other sewage agencies filed a charge that Kern County overstepped its jurisdiction by banning the spread of these materials on farmland. This placed the onus on the county to prove that the materials posed a risk. 

"The problem that the county ran into was that the science isn't well enough advanced. The health impacts have not been proven yet, so the judge said the county hasn't proven that any animal or person has been hurt by the long-standing land application of biosolids in Kern County," he said.

Burger says that some Kern County residents are feeling frustrated after the decision to settle.

"There's some frustration, the concerns that are still lingering here are that these things aren't tested, and that they could impact groundwater... And there's a general feeling from the public, and it was expressed - 83% of the voters voted to create this law that Los Angeles shouldn't be dropping its problems, or its poop, in Kern County. So, that's maybe a more emotional approach to the problem, but those are kind of some of those feelings that were behind this whole 11-year conflict."

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above.