Beyond EMS: 
Lessons from the First Certified Agency

Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) in southern California was the first organization to become certified under the National Biosolids Partnership (NBP) Environmental Management System (EMS) program.  This from an OCSD news release:

Implementing and maintaining the NBP certification over the last 15 years has helped OCSD’s biosolids program blossom into an effective, award-winning program that will remain strong. In light of our program’s maturation and the strengthened regulatory oversight now in place in Southern California and Arizona, OCSD is developing and utilizing an internal standard. As a result, OCSD withdrew from the NBP certification program in November 2015. 

In July 2000, OCSD began developing our biosolids management system (BMS) and, in July 2003, became the first in the nation to be certified by the National Biosolids Partnership (NBP). OCSD’s biosolids program has grown and flourished using this management system approach over these past fifteen years.

Prior to certification, OCSD was using biosolids at numerous farms with limited compost and inconsistent documentation and oversight. Under the NBP certification, OCSD matured and strengthened its biosolids program, especially via the systematic approach for documentation and biosolids contractor oversight. By way of example, OCSD improved analytics, internal reporting, feedback loops, biosolids training, investigations (cause analysis), corrective and preventive actions, emergency preparations, and outcomes (environmental performance, regulatory compliance, relationships with interested parties, and quality management practices). 

Today OCSD’s offsite portion of our program consists of about 50% farming with biosolids at a single location that has been using biosolids sustainably since the 1980’s. OCSD believes a key to this farm’s sustainability is its location and that the contractor is not moving operations around to different farms and communities. In addition, because the contractor is now directly unloading biosolids into equipment and immediately incorporating the biosolids into the soil (no longer staging biosolids on the ground), the farm has significantly reduced its potential for generating odors and attracting flies, while increasing efficiency. 

Likewise, compost facilities today have extensive permitting and regulatory oversight, improved communications with neighbors and local communities, and more air quality and odor process controls. Today’s framework is much more sophisticated than what was in place two decades ago.

OCSD is in the process of reviewing all aspects of our biosolids program. Though we will maintain most of the processes, each component’s core purpose and value is being evaluated, and many processes are being updated and streamlined to gain efficiencies. Most of the resource savings are expected in the areas where OCSD is not realizing enough return on investment, such as in audits and time spent to maintain the certification. OCSD remains committed to continuous improvement and maintaining our high-quality, effective program.