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King County Loop® Biosolids Help Community Recover from Wildfires

By November 24, 2020December 2nd, 2020No Comments

In the summer of 2020, the tiny community of Mansfield, WA (population 343) found itself smack dab in the middle of several wildfires between July and September. The largest fire, the Pearl Hill Fire, got a few thousand yards from town. Some residents lost everything. The Seattle Times published a map showing fires surrounding Mansfield on September 14, 2020.

Flames near the Boulder Park office in Mansfield, WA

Nearly 240,000 acres burned in the Mansfield area, including large areas of farmed fields. The farmers had either completed seeding or were in the process. Formerly lush fields became a moonscape that will be subject to wind erosion for some time to come. Mansfield area residents were devastated, yet they remain strong and resilient. Some farmers are using King County’s Loop® biosolids to help mitigate the devastation in the fields.

Farms in a typical year (left) and after the 2020 fires (right).

King County makes nutrient-rich organic biosolids by recycling the solids people flush or put down the drain and garbage disposal. We call our biosolids Loop®. Loop is a natural soil amendment that returns carbon and nutrients to the land. For over 40 years, gardeners, landscapers, foresters, and farmers across Washington state have used Loop® biosolids to enrich their soils and grow healthy plants. WTD recycles 100 percent of its biosolids, and more than half of it goes to the Mansfield area through a partnership with Boulder Park Inc. (BPI) at the Boulder Park Project (BPP).

Mansfield area farmers already had experience with how Loop® biosolids help minimize erosion and help make fields productive after a fire. BPI used biosolids on burned fields after the 2015 Chelan Complex Fire and again after a smaller fire in 2019. In the early spring 2020 windstorms created sand berms up to 3-feet tall in a burned field. Farmers, Monty Black and Justin Bowen, asked to use extra biosolids to stabilize the soil and seed a spring wheat crop. The BPI typically applies Loop to farmers’ fields at what’s called an “agronomic rate” to meet the exact nutrient needs of the crop. After the 2019 fire, BPI worked with the Department of Ecology (Ecology) and received permission to apply biosolids at a slightly higher rate than normal to the wind-eroded areas. The farmer was excited by the results and managed to harvest a fine wheat crop before the 2020 fire season.

Biosolids are applied using precision technology to control the amount and track where it is spread.

Unfortunately, the same farmers were devastated by September 2020’s Pearl Hill Fire. They lost wheat stubble on 12 fields totaling about 1,400 acres.

Homestead located on RD A.5 NW nearly one-half mile north of 21 RD NW. Homestead burned in Pearl Hill Fire Sept 2020.

Once again, working with Ecology, the BPI will be applying biosolids to burned fields at the agronomic rate plus an approved additional remediation rate. Jake Finlinson, King County’s Biosolids Agricultural Project Manager says, “We just completed applying Loop® to the first burned field (183 acres) and we hope to get to more before the snow arrives. What doesn’t get done this fall, will get done as soon as spring arrives and the snow is gone.”

Every year, more than two dozen farmers in Washington apply Loop® to approximately 10,000 acres of farmland, amending and enriching their soil to grow lush crops. And in wildfire years, Loop® can help farmers recover faster.

Meet some of the Mansfield area farmers in this short video: