It was a match made in heaven, at least for the residents of Los Angeles, but it will soon be coming to an end.
For around 20 years, Los Angeles has shipped a large portion of “biosolids” from its toilets to fertilize a farm it owns just west of Bakersfield.
Bakersfield, in return, has been providing an annual load of 18,000 acre-feet of free water to the farm, Green Acres, in a deal that was meant to benefit both cities. However, Bakersfield is choosing not to renew the water contract with LA, and the farm will have to find another source to irrigate its crops.
“Right now LA is receiving a great benefit by having free treated wastewater for their farming operation,” said Zachary Meyer, wastewater manager for Bakersfield. “Now the city is no longer going to be sending them that benefit and we are going to try to reap the benefits for ourselves.”
The city initially entered into an agreement with a private company in 1985 to send treated wastewater from a nearby plant to the farm for free.
The plant currently treats 17.5 million gallons per day, and is capable of treating up to 32 million gallons per day.
At the time, the agreement provided an outlet for its treated wastewater at no cost, which the city described as a positive.
In 2000, the 4,700-acre farm was transferred to Los Angeles, which has been trucking loads of biosolids, also known as sludge, to the farm for use as fertilizer.
The biosolids are treated human and industrial sewage waste that have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use on farmlands.
Despite the approval, Kern County residents have been highly opposed to LA’s practice of dumping biosolids at the farm.
In 2006, voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on the use of the sludge on farms in unincorporated county areas. The vote kicked off a protracted legal battle in which Los Angeles won the right to continue trucking the sludge into Kern County.
Throughout it all, Bakersfield has provided water to the farm. However, after the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the value of treated wastewater increased.
“Our best interest economically is not to export it anymore,” said City Manager Alan Tandy.
The Bakersfield City Council voted on Wednesday to notify Los Angeles that it does not intend to renew the water contract, which expires in 2026.
After that date, the city plans to percolate the wastewater back into the earth to recharge Bakersfield’s groundwater basin.
If the city’s treatment plant were operating at full capacity, it could treat at least $2 million worth of water per year, and possibly much more, according to a city report.
“It’s a lot of water and it’s important to the balance sheet,” Tandy said, referring to the water being piped to the farm.
The city said in a report that it could also sell the water to farmers or use it to irrigate public parks.
The city has notified Los Angeles officials about the plan to shut off Green Acres’ water, but has not received a response, according to the city report