Waste by rail: your garbage will soon travel 200 miles

In the last column I incorrectly credited the speaker at the most recent Keep Downey Beautiful Committee meeting. His correct name is Rodney Nelson, and I apologize to Mr. Nelson and to Patriot readers for my error.One of the most significant environmental challenges of a burgeoning Southern California population is what to do with the trash. In our last column, we detailed some of the regulations imposed on landfills, as explained by Mr. Rodney Nelson at a recent Keep Downey Beautiful meeting. Another challenge is that local landfills are closing. Consequently waste management companies have for years been looking for viable alternatives. For the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County (LACSD), the best option is Waste-by-Rail (WBR), destined for the Mesquite Regional Landfill (MRF) about 200 miles east of Los Angeles in Imperial County near Glamis. For you off-roaders, that's near the Imperial Sand Dunes, the largest mass of sand dunes in the state and "a favorite for off-road vehicle enthusiasts," per the federal Bureau of Land Management. For you prospectors, it's near the Mesquite Gold Mine. Considering the complexities and the extensive requirements involved in permitting landfill sites, this location has many features to recommend it. First and foremost, it's far removed from significant population centers. In addition, precipitation in this desert region is about 4 inches per year and evaporation is 100 inches per year. Furthermore, the depth to groundwater is 140 to 300 feet. The significance of these figures is that the likelihood of contaminated liquid runoff--"leachates," as explained here previously--is very low. To summarize, per LACSD's project fact sheet, "the arid desert climate, distance from groundwater, proximity to the railroad, and remoteness from residential developments make the site an ideal location for a regional waste-by-rail landfill." Moreover, MRF is already permitted for a maximum of 20,000 tons per day (tpd) of non-hazardous municipal solid waste from seven southern California counties, of which 1,000 tpd is reserved exclusively for Imperial County. On a total site area of 4,250 acres, the actual landfill refuse footprint is permitted to be as large as 2,290 acres. Finally, the landfill has a total capacity of 600 million tons and a projected life span of about 100 years. This should be good news for users of the Puente Hills Landfill, Downey's nearest neighboring landfill, the closure of which is mandated by its original use permits, rather than necessitated through having reached its capacity. What's interesting here, however, is that local landfills are not filling up at the same rates they were even a few years ago. So despite Puente Hills' mandatory closure date of November 1, 2013, it probably won't be full when it closes. The reason for this surprising state of affairs, given Southern California's continuing population growth, has long been obvious to those in waste management: namely, when there's an economic downturn, there's going to be less trash. So, for example, according to the LACSD's 2011 Puente Hills Landfill Annual Report published last November, the number of tons per day deposited at Puente Hills Landfill declined by 55% from 2005 through the first quarter of 2011. The same report documented that total Los Angeles County landfill tonnage had decreased by 39% in that same period. So folks really ARE following the first cardinal rule of the Three R's of the environment: they have chosen to "Reduce" their consumption. Unfortunately for all of us, the reason is recession and not necessarily conviction. Further, the transition to Waste-by-Rail is inevitable and already underway. And this will cost us more, as detailed in the report mentioned above. We'll examine those cost increases further in a subsequent column.

********** Published: November 29, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 33