Setbacks set minimum distances between the biosolids application site and streams, wells, dwellings, roads and property lines. While all biosolids must meet federal and state standards for safety, the requirements for setbacks provide an extra layer of protection to prevent environmental impacts and reduce potential nuisances. Setbacks do the following:

  • Keep biosolids applications on the permitted site
  • Control runoff or leaching from the applied area
  • Protect surface water and other non-targeted areas
  • Reduce off-site odors

The requirements for setbacks are defined by the DEQ and are listed in the accompanying table.

Minimum Setback Distances (feet) to Land Application Area

Adjacent Feature Area

Occupied dwelling 2001,2,3

Odor sensitive receptors (without injection or same day incorporation) 4003

Odor sensitive receptors (with injection or same day incorporation) 200

Property lines 1002,4

Property lines of publicly accessible sites5 200

Water supply wells or springs 100

Public water supply reservoirs 400

All segments of streams and tributaries designated as a Public Water Supply under the Water Quality Standards 100

Surface waters without a vegetated buffer 100

Surface waters with a 35-foot vegetated buffer 35

Agricultural drainage ditches 10

All improved roadways 10

Rock outcrops 25

Open sinkholes 100

Limestone rock outcrops and closed sinkholes6 50


(1) The setback distance to occupied dwellings may be reduced or waived upon written consent of the occupant and landowner of the dwelling
(2) The department shall grant to any landowner or resident in the vicinity of a biosolids land application site an extended setback of up to 200 feet from their property line and up to 400 feet from their occupied dwelling upon request from their physician based on medical reasons. In order for an extended setback request to be granted, the request must be submitted to the department in writing on a form provided by the department. A request must be received by the department no later than 48 hours before land application commences on the field affected by the extended setback, and communicated to the permittee no later than 24 hours before land application commences on the field affected by the extended setback. The department may extend a setback distance within 48 hours of land application if requested by the Virginia Department of Health in connection with the landowner or resident’s physician.
(3) Setback distances may be extended beyond 400 feet where an evaluation by the Virginia Department of Health determines that a setback in excess of 400 feet is necessary to prevent specific and immediate injury to the health of an individual.
(4) The setback distance to property lines may be reduced or waived upon written consent of the landowner.
(5) Publicly accessible sites are open to the general public and routinely accommodate pedestrians and include, but are not limited to, schools, churches, hospitals, parks, nature trails, businesses open to the public, and sidewalks. Temporary structures, public roads or similar thoroughfares are not considered publicly accessible.
(6) A closed sinkhole does not have an open conduit to groundwater. The setback from a closed sinkhole may be reduced or waived by the department upon evaluation by a professional soil scientist.

Property and dwelling setbacks may be increased or decreased, depending on specific site considerations. For example, setback distances to property lines and dwellings can be reduced if the farmer’s neighbors agree to sign a waiver. Setback requirements can be increased by VDH at specific sites to address unusual conditions or to reduce impacts on adjacent neighbors.