We Won!

Lots of news coverage of the final outcome. Our press release is below. Here are links to other media coverage.



 Citizens’ Group Reports Victory in Battle Against Sewage Sludge


Morton Alexander,
Mill Canyon resident  mortonalexander@sisna.com
(801) 637-6903


Chrys Ostrander,
former Mill Canyon resident
(914) 246-0309

Davenport, WA

An informal committee of neighbors in the Mill Canyon area northeast of Davenport, WA is calling it a victory: They didn’t want sewage sludge to be applied to agricultural lands in their watershed. They fought hard against it. Now, due to their efforts, sludge will not be applied to lands immediately adjacent to the canyon where they live, according to a newly approved permit, issued December 13th by the Department of Ecology.

Map showing how much land was saved from the threat of sewage sludge application.
The green shaded areas had been included in Fire Mountain Farms’ permit application but are NOT included in the final permit! Only the red shaded area will receive any sludge, over 5 1/2 miles away.

The scale of the win for the committee is significant. The total acreage that will have sludge applied is reduced from the original 887.45 acres to 157.77 acres in the final permit. The original application indicated sewage sludge would have been applied less than one mile from Mill Canyon residents’ farms, gardens and wells and less than half a mile from the source of a private spring used for drinking water that figured prominently in comments sent to the Department of Ecology citing concerns over potential contamination from the sludge. With the approved permit, the closest to the canyon any sludge will be applied is over 5 miles away.

For close to two years, the citizens fought the permits sought by Fire Mountain Farms of Onalaska, WA. Fire Mountain Farms is a company with a checkered reputation that offers to apply sewage sludge on farms at no cost to the farmer (the company is paid by sewage treatment plants to take the sludge away). Concerned Mill Canyon residents met with their neighbors and testified at public hearings. They wrote letters and generated publicity that raised public awareness about the risks of applying sewage sludge to farmland.

In the spring of 2017, when it looked like the permits to dump the sludge were all but destined to be approved, the neighbors stepped up their opposition efforts. They named their informal committee “Protect Mill Canyon Watershed.” They announced their intention to appeal in the case of an adverse decision and launched a detailed website laying out their position.  They initiated a statewide letter-writing campaign that helped garner support for their position and put pressure on the Department of Ecology.  The committee also received valuable guidance, advice and support from the Columbia Institute for Water Policy, the Northwest Fund for the Environment, Safe Food and Fertilizer (a project of Earth Island Institute) and the Sierra Club.

Ultimately, it was one-on-one negotiations between neighbors that achieved the compromise reducing the acreage and proximity of sludge application. As the deadline for a decision on the permit from Ecology approached, representatives from Protect Mill Canyon Watershed met and corresponded with the grain farmer who was seeking to have the sludge applied to his lands. Despite urgings from the Department of Ecology and the sludge applicator that the original provisions should be defended in administrative court, the farmer ultimately decided that being a good neighbor was most important and agreed to withdraw from applying sludge close to Mill Canyon.

Morton Alexander, a landowner whose spring was at risk commented, “We refused to just lie down and accept this threat to our beautiful canyon, its air and water.  We are grateful for support from the larger community, regional and statewide, that brought credibility to our fight.  Hopefully, our success inspires resistance by others in similar struggles.”

Protect Mill Canyon Watershed is an informal committee of Mill Canyon residents.

Committee members: Morton Alexander, Corrina Barrett, Ernest Barrett, Laura Harris, Paige Kenney, Chrys Ostrander and Timothy Pellow. Jill Herrera, Grant Writer; Rachael Paschal Osborn, Columbia Institute for Water Policy, Legal Adviser; Donald Hanson, Science Adviser; Patricia Martin, Safe Food and Fertilizer, Technical Adviser.


– Protect Mill Canyon Watershed website: http://www.protectmillcanyon.org/ 

– Final Permit from Ecology, Site-specific Land Application Plan for Fire Mountain Farms – Rosman Farms Unit

– Protect Mill Canyon Watershed maintains the position that sewage sludge should never be released into the environment and that the practice of applying sewage sludge to agricultural and forest lands in Washington should be ended. Protect Mill Canyon Watershed advocates for a statewide moratorium on future permits for the land application of sewage sludge.


Please be patient with us as we update our website to reflect the new situation.

Background – Longer Version

Support the
Washington Sewage Sludge Moratorium!

On Sept. 6, 2017, we announced our call for an immediate moratorium on approving any more sewage sludge permits to dispose of sewage sludge on agricultural land until the regulations catch up to the science.
Press conference was recorded.

Go HERE to send your message to Governor Inslee
and Ecology Director Bellon: Impose a moratorium now!

We have compiled a new document that goes into greater detail laying out our objections to the disposal of sewage sludge on agricultural lands. Go HERE to study our detailed objections.

Mill Canyon

The application of treated sewage sludge (euphemistically labeled “biosolids”) to crop land is sadly gaining popularity as a cheap, but disgusting way to dispose of toxic waste. Currently, the well-being of the residents of Mill Canyon (near Davenport in Lincoln County, WA) is threatened by a proposed application of sewage sludge by a neighboring wheat farmer.

Concern about spreading “bio-solids” in Mill Canyon is a local example of a national problem.  The progressive journal In These Times has recognized the threat and has begun to publish a series of in-depth exposés of the hazards of municipal sewage sludge use on agricultural land.

In These Times reports that municipal sewage sludge contains

“…whatever goes into the sewer system and emerges as solids from municipal wastewater treatment plants. Sludge can be (its exact composition varies and is not knowable) any of the 80,000 synthetic chemicals used by industry; new chemicals created from combining two or more of those 80,000; bacteria and viruses; hospital waste; runoff from roads; pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs; detergents and chemicals that are put down drains in residences; and, of course, urine and feces flushed down toilets.

“Sludge that is heat dried, anaerobically digested, composted, limed or otherwise stabilized is called “biosolids”—a made-up euphemism for sewage sludge that makes it no safer. In addition to toxic metals, pathogenic viruses and bacteria, some hazardous materials in “biosolids” include: endocrine disruptors like brominated flame retardants (PBDEs, which are a lot like PCBs), phthalates like DEHP (a reproductive and developmental toxin), persistent and toxic ingredients in personal care products (e.g., triclosan and galaxolide) and pharmaceuticals that the human body excretes in feces or urine (hormones from birth control pills, etc.).

“The Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey, a 2009 EPA study, concluded that all sewage sludge contains toxic and hazardous materials”

Tolstoy Farms

Located about 35 miles west of Spokane, Mill Canyon is home to quite a few residents with both commercial and amateur organic farms and gardens, some of which have been tended organically for over 50 years. Tolstoy Farm, one of the oldest secular intentional communities in the US,  is located in Mill Canyon. Tolstoy Farms, one of the oldest and most well known organic farms in the region that supplies produce to hundreds of customers is in Mill Canyon. The farm operates a market garden that has been certified organic for nearly 20 years. Tolstoy Farms helped create the Spokane Farmer’s Market and was at the forefront of introducing fresh, local, organic produce to Spokane. Farmers from Tolstoy travel twice weekly during the growing season to sell their produce at the market and they supply nearly 100 families with a weekly CSA share of the harvest through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. While the water source for Tolstoy Farms is not within or downstream of the areas currently proposed for biosolids, Tolstoy Farms opposes the application of biosolids as well as the spraying of agricultural chemicals on the wheat fields in the area. Tolstoy Farms is very much opposed to biosolids use becoming an accepted practice in agriculture.

Go HERE to view a map showing the tributaries that feed Mill Creek, and ultimately the Spokane River, that are threatened with sewage sludge application.

Turd-like bio-solids “pellets.” [Source: Al Jazeera Media Network]
Rosman Farms, a broad-scale, commercial grain farm that is situated above Mill Canyon, wants to have sewage sludge applied to their fields by an outfit called Fire Mountain Farms (FMF). FMF has applied to the Washington State Department of Ecology for a permit to spread sewage sludge on thousands of acres in Eastern Washington, including onto the fields of Rosman Farms, which is located in the Mill Canyon watershed.It is difficult to understand why, with 2 million acres of rolling wheat fields in eastern Washington, Fire Mountain Farms (FMF) would propose Rosman Farms as a site to apply biosolids. Rosman Farms consists of highly erosive soils. Water, soil, and rock routinely course into the steep canyons, including Mill Canyon, that border its property. The canyons eventually discharge into the Spokane River. Crop fallowing (keeping fields bare for alternating seasons) and tillage practices that characterize eastern Washington dryland agriculture create conditions in which wind erosion will lead to wind-borne release of biosolids particles into Mill Canyon and beyond, coating crops and people’s lungs. Recent catastrophic flood events in Mill Canyon are evidence of the erosive potential of the farmlands above the canyon to contaminate creeks, springs and groundwater with sewage sludge (view this video of the flood). In fact, normal spring thaw runoff has the same contamination potential. In addition, a neighboring spring has supplied drinking water for dozens of families in Mill Canyon for over a century. This spring will be vulnerable to contamination by the known and unknown contaminants of the sewage sludge if the permit is granted for Rosman Farms to apply bio-solids to their fields. For more information on sludge contaminants,  see Cornell Waste Management Institute Comments to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Sierra Club Comments re: Permit BT 9902, Fire Mountain Farms Application to spread sewage sludge on Rosman Farm in Lincoln County.

Road down into the Canyon. Grain field in the distance.

The Rosman Farms fields are not an appropriate place where sewage sludge should be applied. In 2016, a group of Mill Canyon residents attempted to negotiate an agreement with the owner of Rosman Farms which would have removed certain unsuitable lands from biosolids use and establish buffers to protect neighboring properties. Eventually Rosman Farms broke off discussions and renewed efforts to have Fire Mountain Farms apply sewage sludge to their fields.

Both Fire Mountain Farms and Rosman Farms have negative track records with respect to compliance with biosolids law. FMF has been the subject of several disciplinary orders, issued by the Department of Ecology, for mixing dangerous waste with biosolids, and was recently denied permission for some of its application sites in western Washington. B&B Septic, a septic tank pumping service located in Harrington, WA, has been applying septage to Rosman Farms for several years, and it is believed they have over-applied that product to fields that drain to an area of Mill Canyon known as Angel Springs. This poor compliance record indicates a need, at minimum, to impose stringent monitoring conditions on any approval of FMF biosolids use, if not outright denial of the request for a permit.

This map shows Rosman Farm areas (black outline) and section numbers (yellow numbers) of sections where sludge could be applied as indicated in the permit application. Areas where application of biosolids would violate regulations due to the highly erodible nature of the soils (according to the USDA NRCS soil survey) are indicated in red. Blue shading indicates Mill Creek at the bottom of Mill Canyon.

In 2016, the Department of Ecology held hearings and provided for public comment on a permit application by Fire Mountain Farms which included seeking permission to apply sewage sludge on Rosman Farms in the Mill Canyon watershed. Several Mill Canyon residents submitted detailed comments that were highly critical of the proposal and asked Ecology to deny the permit. The comment period closed on October 31, 2016, but the Department has not yet made a final ruling. Despite strong arguments put forward that would support denial of the permit, the Washington State Legislature, which for some reason “recognizes biosolids as a valuable commodity,” has mandated that the Department of Ecology “implement a program that maximizes beneficial use” of biosolids. Therefore it is expected that Ecology will eventually grant the permit (quotes from the Dept. of Ecology website).

In light of this, our new organization, Protect Mill Canyon Watershed (PMCW), is preparing to appeal a decision that would grant permission for sewage sludge to be applied to fields in our watershed. Filing such an appeal would be an expensive undertaking and should that eventuality come into being, PMCW will seek financial support from concerned citizens like you.

If this permit is denied outright, or our appeal, if one is needed, is successful, it will set an important precedent for protecting the health and livelihoods of Washington communities facing similar threat as well as the health and well-being of food shoppers who choose to purchase nutritious and tasty locally-grown produce that they would not want to be contaminated by municipal sewage sludge.

Protecting the Mill Canyon watershed will require help and support from many people. Please sign our guestbook so that we have your contact information when and if it becomes necessary to engage the larger community in this struggle.



Sludge Permit Applications | Community Comments
| Maps | Protect Mill Canyon Watershed ‘In the News’
| Other Media | Scientific Documents
| Etc.

Sludge Permit Applications

Site Specific Land Application Plan for Rosman Farms Unit (SSLAP). 7-16-2013 (Withdrawn)

Site Specific Land Application Plan for Rosman Farms Unit (SSLAP). 9-23-2016 (As submitted)

Final, approved Site Specific Land Application Plan for Rosman Farms Unit (SSLAP). 12-13-2017

Community Comments

Don Hanson’s comments. 7-27-2016

Community Committee of Concerned Residents and Landowners in Green Canyon and Mill Canyon Letter to Washington State Department of Ecology. 9-23-2016

Marie Brito’s’s statement. 10-12-2016

Sierra Club Comments re: Permit BT 9902, Fire Mountain Farms Application to spread sewage sludge on Rosman Farm in Lincoln County. 10-26-2016

Comments by Corrina Barrett Regarding Rosman Farms Biosolids Application. 10-27-2016

Ernie Barrett’s biosolids management letter. 10-27-2016

Morton Alexander’s Testimony to Ecology hearing. 10-27-2016

Statement of Laura Harris re March 2014 Mill Canyon Flood. 10-27-2016

Morton Alexander & Ernest Barrett Comments on FMF-Rosman Site Specific Land Application Plan Proposal (SLAPP). 10-31-2016

Carla Martinez Biosolids Letter. 10-31-16

Stash Jackowski Bio-solids Testimony. 10-31-2016

Tim Pellow Comments on FMF-Rosman Site Specific Land Application Plan Proposal (SLAPP). 10-31-2016

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Map of Threatened Mill Canyon Watershed

Map of Mill Canyon Showing Location of Tolstoy Farms, a Certified Organic Farm.

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Protect Mill Canyon Watershed ‘In the News’

PMCW Press Release: Citizens’ Group Reports Victory in Battle Against Sewage Sludge, issued Dec. 19, 2017.

A Small Committee of Lincoln County Neighbors Goes Up Against the Waste-Industrial Complex of Sewage Sludge Slingers, Nature’s Advocate, a publication of the Upper Columbia River Group, a Sierra Club chapter, Fall 2017, page 1.

Sewage Sludge Threatens Mill Canyon Aquifer and Organic Farms, The Crest, Washington State Sierra Club Journal, Volume 36, Issue 3, Pg. 11 – Fall 2017

Guest Opinion: Keep Sewage Sludge Off Farmland, Morton Alexander and Chrys Ostrander, Spokesman Review, October 14, 2017.

Lincoln County residents fight biosolids on nearby farm by Jim Camden, Spokesman Review, September 27, 2017

Making a Stink By Samantha Wohlfeil, The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Sept. 21, 2017

Letter to Inlander Editor From Committee Member Morton Alexander

WA group starts campaign to stop use of biosolids on ag land by Matthew Weaver, Capital Press, September 7, 2017

Press Release: Citizen Committee Opposed to Dumping of Sewage Sludge on Agricultural Land Calls for Statewide Moratorium on Permits to Spread Sewage Sludge on Agricultural Lands. Issued Sept. 6, 2017.

PMCW Press Release: “Protect Mill Canyon Watershed,” a citizen committee opposed to dumping of sewage sludge on agricultural land, calls press conference for Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 3pm at Department of Ecology Building in Spokane. Major announcement regarding the Department and sewage sludge is scheduled. Issued Sept. 3, 2017.

Mill Canyon residents organize to protect air and water, The Fig Tree, Vol. 34, No. 7, Sept., 2017

Ecology: No threat in biosolid use on ag lands, Capital Press, August 14, 2017

Spokane Public Radio News, Aug. 10, 2017 (mp3 audio file)

Committee forms to ‘protect’ Mill Canyon area from application of bio-solids in grain fields, Davenport Times, Aug. 10, 2017.

KYRS Spokane, Earth Matters Now, Aug. 8, 2017 (mp3 audio file)

PMCW Press Release: Municipal sewage sludge threatens residents in rural eastern Washington, Issued August 8, 2017

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Other Media

KING 5 TV Investigation: Grounds for Concern – Human Waste Being Used In Fertilizer In Washington State. 11-21-2000

Video: Crapshoot – The Gamble with our Wastes, directed by Jeff McKay. (Film: National Film Board of Canada)

Biosolids hit the fan, Sound Consumer, March 2012

It’s Time to Talk (Again) about Sewage Sludge on Farmland, In These Times magazine, July 11, 2017.

The problem with biosolids, Opinion Piece, Capital Press, August 16, 2017

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Scientific Documents

Are Agricultural Soils Dumps for Microplastics of Urban Origin? Luca Nizzetto, Martyn Futter, and Sindre Langaas of the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, Oslo, Norway, the Research Centre for Toxic Compounds in the Environment, Masaryk University, Czech Republic and the Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden, 2016

Biosolids, Beyond Pesticides

Case for Caution Revisited: Health and Environmental Impacts of Application of Sewage Sludges to Agricultural Land, Ellen Z. Harrison, retired Director, and Murray McBride, Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute, Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences, Rice Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Comments to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regarding Proposed Revisions to Part 360 Rules (New York State’s Solid Waste Management Facilities Regulations) – Submitted by: Ellen Z. Harrison, Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute. 02-28-2002

Contaminants of Emerging Concern EPA

Emerging Substances of Concern CANADA

EPA Contaminants in Biosolids-Table

EPA Response to NAS-NRC 2002 Report

EPA Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey Statistical Analysis

Focus for Health, Environmental Toxins & Biosolids

Food and Sewage Sludge – Legalizing the Poisoning of our Food

Impact of Long Term Sewage Sludge Additions to Biological Function in Scottish Soils

Land Application of Treated Sewage Sludge: Community Health and Environmental Justice. Amy Lowman, Mary Anne McDonald, Steve Wing, and Naeema Muhammad of the Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the Department of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, the Concerned Citizens of Tillery, Tillery, North Carolina, 2013

Organic chemicals in sewage sludges. Ellen Z. Harrison, Summer Rayne Oakes, Matthew Hysell, Anthony Hay, Cornell Waste Management Institute, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Ithaca, NY and Cornell University, Department of Microbiology and Institute for Comparative and Environmental Toxicology, Ithaca, NY, 2006

Scientists’ open letter on the dangers of biosolids, Letter to the Editor of the Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton, Ontario by Sierra Rayne, PhD, John Werring, MSc, RPBio, Richard Honour, PhD, Steven R. Vincent, PhD. Sierra Rayne is an independent scientist; John Werring is a senior science and policy adviser for the David Suzuki Foundation; Richard Honour is the executive director for The Precautionary Group; Steven R. Vincent is the Louise Brown Professor of Neuroscience with the department of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.

Sewage Biosolids Land Application Reported Health Incidents

Sewage Sludge, Humanure and Biosolids – The Dangers of Sewage Sludge, Water Technology Engineering Ltd.

We Should Expect More out of Our Sewage Sludge, Jordan Peccia and Paul Westerhoff, Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Yale University and School of Sustainable Engineering and The Built Environment, Arizona State University, respectively.

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Ecology grants Webb Hill facility final coverage, grace period. Arla Shephard Bull, Mason County Life, published Nov. 6, 2017

       Additional conditions and final coverage issuance to Bio Recycling Corporation (Bio Recycling) Biosolids North Ranch General Permit Coverage. Washington State Department of Ecology Waste 2 Resources Program, Oct. 24, 2017.

It is unfortunate that the Dept. of Ecology has decided not to honor the call for a statewide moratorium on further sewage sludge land application permits made by Protect Mill Canyon Watershed and hundreds of our supporters around the state. On Oct. 24 , Ecology instead granted a permit to Bio Recycling Corporation, a very troubled sludge application company in Centralia, WA. Some of the groundwater in fields where Bio Recycling has been dumping sludge for years have reached unsafe levels of nitrate contamination. The company has inadequate storage facilities and has been told to bring them into compliance or curtail operations. Neighbors of the sludge facility are very concerned. This article from Mason County Life, published on Nov. 6, describes the issues involved. Here’s a quote from a concerned neighbor from the article: “‘This was an ill-conceived idea from the very beginning with applying toxic things into the ground,’ said Union resident Pat Vandehey at the March hearing. ‘They never thought about what happens when it’s reached a saturation point and they’re not going to be able to put it on anymore. Something has to be done at that point, but nobody seems to look ahead to the future.’”

Below the link to the article is a link to a copy of the permit Ecology granted. The permit includes numerous “conditions” that belie a history of poor management practices on the part of Bio Recycling. These “conditions” also expose how high risk the practice of dumping sewage sludge is that it requires such complex rules and conditions, further eroding the validity of Ecology’s assertions that dumping sewage sludge on agricultural land is safe. It should be noted that Ecology is, in this permit, mainly concerned with one pollutant contaminant, nitrates, out of the hundreds of pollutant contaminants know to occur in sewage sludge (Ecology only monitors 10 contaminants– nitrogen and nine heavy metals, which Protect Mill Canyon Watershed asserts is dangerously inadequate oversight).

With the issuance of this permit, defenders of a clean, safe environment need to redouble our efforts calling for a sludge moratorium and end sewage sludge dumping on ag land once and for all.

Video of the March 5, 2014 Mill Canyon flood can be viewed at

Sewage Sludge Information Web Page, Center for Food Safety

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase record #760, University of Washington Botanic Gardens, Elizabeth C. Miller Library, University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, College of the Environment,
Q: “I noticed at the Flower and Garden Show that King County Master Gardeners were giving away samples of biosolids for use in the garden. Is sewage sludge really safe? Is it acceptable if you garden organically?”
A: (excerpt) “The short answer is that there is some uncertainty about the safety of using biosolids in the garden, and if you are attempting to garden organically, it may be best to avoid using them.” See page for details.

Sewage Sludge is Sold as Compost for Food & Gardening – What Are the Hidden Dangers? Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition (NWTCC), 2014.

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Protecting the Mill Canyon watershed is a big job. So is advocating for no more sludge on ag lands. This struggle will require help and support from many people. Please sign our guestbook so that we have your contact information when and if it becomes necessary to actively engage the larger community. Your information will not be made public. We respect your privacy and we will not share your data.

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Contact Us


A couple of canyon-loving kids. Our children are the most vulnerable to pollution from the sludge.

Protect Mill Canyon Watershed
We are an informal committee of Mill Canyon residents. You can contact us using the following form. We look forward to hearing from you.

Committee members:
Morton Alexander, Corrina Barrett, Ernest Barrett, Laura Harris, Paige Kenney, Chrys Ostrander and Timothy Pellow.

Jill Herrera, Grant Writer

Rachael Paschal Osborn, Legal Adviser

Donald Hanson, Science Adviser

Patricia Martin, Technical Adviser
Safe Food and Fertilizer, a project of Earth Island Institute

Supporting Organizations

Columbia Institute for Water Policy
Cornucopia Institute
Inland FoodWise Online
Northwest Fund for the Environment
Safe Food and Fertilizer, a project of Earth Island Institute
Sierra Club
Tolstoy Farms
Upper Columbia River Group

Protect Mill Canyon Watershed
c/o Morton Alexander
32621 Mill Canyon Road North
Davenport, WA 99122-8581