Kyle Dorsey, WA State Department of Ecology

dorsey, kyle

By Dan Thompson, City of Tacoma-TAGRO & Regulations Committee Chair

The State of Washington has one of the more successful biosolids programs in the country.  Class A and Class B programs thrive in Washington with relatively little controversy.  Much of this success can be attributed to the collaborative relationship that exists among biosolids stakeholders.  The inclusive approach that Washington’s Department of Ecology has taken has helped to create a shared vision of environmental stewardship and the role wastewater residuals can play in protecting and enhancing that environment.  State Biosolids Coordinator Kyle Dorsey (seen here explaining the infield fly rule to a Bulgarian exchange student) has been a leader in this effort for over a quarter of a century.  

Kyle’s contributions extend beyond an even handed application of the biosolids regulations.  They include involvement in the legislation that is the basis of the Washington State code, the development of the code itself and significant contributions to the national discussion on how biosolids should be regulated.  Kyle is also the principal author of the first Washington State General Permit for biosolids and he spear headed the development the of Washington State biosolids management guidelines.    

Kyle’s inquisitiveness and imagination have sent him on a journey that has seen enormous change in the wastewater recycling business.  His early recognition that biosolids had great potential for environmental benefit and his ability to imagine a system that was protective of the health of Washingtonians but still encouraged the recycling of biosolids created an atmosphere that fostered creative solutions to what in many areas of the state was a thorny solid waste problem.  Kyle’s humility has allowed him to listen to experts in academia to boost his understanding of what biosolids are, what they are not and most importantly what they can be.  

Kyle began his career in biosolids as a solid waste inspector.  Like many of us, he was volunteered into biosolids because he was at the right place at the right (or wrong) time depending on one’s perspective.  Kyle turned this opportunity into the program we see today.  Kyle quickly became Ecology’s expert on wastewater residuals and was often the front man for Ecology during the public process for approvals of biosolids projects.  The current Washington State biosolids program was born in the crucible of great public controversy.  Rancorous public meetings were occurring all over the state.  Anti-biosolids organizations such as the Victims of Sludge (VOS) sprouted up around proposed biosolids projects and Kyle was there representing the department of Ecology, explaining the regulations and the safeguards in place in properly run biosolids projects.

Kyle’s recognized that a lot of the chaos and confusions surrounding biosolids management in Washington was a result of our dispersed regulatory scheme.  Each health district in the state was responsible for the regulation of what was then called sewage sludge.  That meant that there were 35 different sets of regulations for biosolids in Washington State.  With Kyle’s guidance, the state promulgated WAC 173.308 which created a statewide approach to biosolids management and (as Kyle is fond of saying) leveled the playing field. 

The strength of the biosolids program in Washington State is in its collaborative approach.  This is exemplified by the process by which the Biosolids guidelines were constructed.  Ecology, with Kyle’s leadership, worked closely with practitioners and other stakeholders to identify concerns and solutions that worked for everybody.  Kyle emanated a genuine concern and interest in the issues of the participants that fostered a problem solving environment.  This encouraged robust discussions and an atmosphere of respect for differing opinions that ultimately lead to creative solutions.

Organizations reflect the qualities of their leaders.  Ecology’s Biosolids program has consistently shown a dedication to public health, environmental protection and public inclusion.  Washington State’s Biosolids program is a national model for collaborative environmental protection and regulation.  This is largely thanks to leaders like Kyle Dorsey.