The Role of Municipalities in Regulating the Land Application of Sewage Sludges and Septage

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Application of sewage sludges to agricultural lands is increasing. This use represents an economical disposal option and provides the benefit of recycling the nutrients and organic matter sludges contain. The practice, however, raises a number of concerns. Although the combination of federal and state regulatory requirements is significant in forming the initial base for sewage sludge management decisions, local regulations also play a part in seeking to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens, who may object to land application. The primary legal constraints that localities face are constitutional Commerce Clause challenges and conflicts with right-to-farm statutes.

The authority of a municipality varies from state to state. This article focuses on New York State, which has granted strong home rule to its municipalities. Examples of local ordinances and how they address particular concerns are described. Local ordinances vary widely in the issues and the level of detail they address. Issues addressed in local ordinances include human health risks, animal health risks, water quality, nuisance issues such as odor, liability and uncertainty, monitoring, and enforcement. They may impose restrictions on the type, amount, quality, or source of sludge. Some specify management practices, notification requirements, and additional monitoring beyond that required by federal or state rules. As a result of concern over the inability of state and federal agencies to provide consistent enforcement of rules due to staffing shortages, local ordinances frequently supply enforcement provisions. Local ordinances may also include fees to cover municipal costs.

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Natural Resources Journal


sewage sludge; land application; regulations


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Harrison, EZ and Eaton, MM. 2001. Role of Municipalities in Regulating the Land Application of Sewage Sludges and Septage. Natural Resources Journal 41:77-123

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