Land Application is a Beautiful Thing!

Land application of septage on agricultural lands is permitted in certain areas and under certain criteria in Saskatchewan.  For more information specific to your province follow this link:

As a result of discussions at the land application sessions at the Pumper & Cleaner Environmental Expo in February, a quick review of land application requirements for septage is in order. These comments are focused on areas referred to as non-public contact sites. Examples include agricultural, forest or mine reclamation lands. Areas where the public would have contact need to meet the requirements for land application of sewage sludge. As always, local ordinances or specific state rules must be followed, and it’s the pumper’s responsibility to be educated about all current rules and ordinances.

Pumpers must be aware of, and follow, several categories of requirements in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 503 rules. These are pathogen control and vector attraction reduction, site suitability requirements, site management, allowable application rates, nitrogen management, hydraulic loading rates and record keeping.


Pathogen control and vector attraction reduction are necessary for all septage applications and required to ensure diseases are not spread. This is accomplished by reducing the number of pathogens present, preventing vectors (flies, rodents, etc.) from being attracted to the site, and by restricting access to the site for the required time period following application.

One of the two options for pathogen control is to establish site restrictions based on the type of crop or activity proposed for the site. These range from restricting grazing animals from being on site for 30 days to 38 months if the site is to be used for underground crops such as potatoes. The other option is a combination of lime stabilization and site restrictions. During the Expo presentations, we learned about a beef operation that used a rotational grazing concept with land application schedules to meet these requirements.

Vector attraction reduction can be accomplished by injecting septage directly into the soil, incorporating the septage into the soil through tillage within six hours of application, or lime stabilization.

In case you have forgotten or did not know, lime stabilization is defined as raising the pH of the septage to 12.0 or greater by the addition of a lime product for a minimum of 30 minutes. This method must be documented. This is an area where pumpers sometimes get into problems, because the temperature of the septage needs to be taken into account when measuring pH.

The stabilization procedure is based on a pH reading at a standard temperature of 77 degrees F (25 degrees C). So to obtain the proper pH level, the pH reading needs to be temperature-corrected. Tables are available to make this determination. It is important in the pumper’s standard operating procedures that the method is documented and a record kept of the temperature and correction.


General site suitability requirements are based on soil texture, soil permeability, bedrock depth, depth to saturated soil

and frequency of flooding. In addition, slope restrictions are based on whether applications are on the surface or incorporated. For general site review, this information found through soil survey information is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. For all surveyed areas, this information is available online. In addition, there are specific setback distances from water wells, homes, lakes and streams and other sensitive areas. The pumper is responsible for knowing these requirements.

General site management practices include: not applying septage in areas where water is ponded; not spraying from public roads or access sites; the area must be clearly identified; it must be uniformly distributed; runoff must be controlled; and if applied in the winter, steps must be taken to ensure equal distribution. Clearly identifying the area means there are stakes, range poles or other easily seen markers on site at the time of application.

Nitrogen is the nutrient currently used to determine how much septage can be applied to a site. Septage must be applied at a rate that supplies no more nitrogen than a crop needs. So these rates are based on crop yield goals and agronomic rates, with adjustments made for other sources of nitrogen applied to the site. Usually these rates are based on state university recommendations for fertilizer application. The pumper is responsible for keeping a record of the nutrients applied, which means they are following a nutrient management plan for the site.

Hydraulic loading rates are set to prevent ponding or runoff of septage on the soil surface. That is why daily application limits are set for surface-applied septage. No runoff from the site and no surface ponding are allowed, and minimal movement is allowed from the application point. In cold weather states like Minnesota, specific winter restrictions are in place.


Finally, there are significant recordkeeping requirements. This is another area that prompts a lot of questions and confusion, and where pumpers get into trouble with the EPA or their local regulators. Each application area needs to be recorded through a legal description, including a map of the site with field boundaries identified. A soil survey map is a good way to do this. Identify any part of the site not used. Record total usable acreage as this determines application rates. There should be a record of the crop grown and the maximum allowable application rates for both nitrogen and hydraulic loading for the year. Keep a running total of gallons of septage applied for each site. Include a description of how pathogens and vectors were addressed.

For each load applied, include detailed information on the source of the septage. For a home or business, for instance, this record can be by address, property owner, invoice number, something that is a unique identifier. The material pumped should be identified. The date and location the septage was applied, the total gallons and the total acres covered should be recorded. I cannot emphasize this enough: It is the pumper’s responsibility to keep these records and to be able to produce them. Recordkeeping is an area I continually see as a source for pumpers getting into trouble and having to go through the pain of legal actions and fines. Make sure you are not one of them!

About the Author
Jim Anderson is connected with the University of Minnesota onsite wastewater treatment education program, is an emeritus professor in the university’s Department of Soil Water and Climate, and education coordinator for the National Association of Wastewater Technicians. Reprinted with permission.