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Pete Stiglich – Dare I Say A foul smell is in the air over septic tanks

Red Bluff Daily News – Red Bluff, CA – Dec 14, 2008
Who would have imagined a promising career in journalism would soon have me writing about things as stinky as septic systems? Oh well, be assured I’m always on the beat, willing to follow my nose anywhere (pardon the pun) to get to the root of a story. Well, I think I’ve found one you might be interested in. So, hold your nose as a foul smell is in the air. If you re a homeowner, business owner or land developer with an existing or planned septic system, you ll be especially interested in today’s column. Given our rural lifestyle here in the North State, I suspect that includes most of you.Recently, I learned our State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) has proposed a new regulation that will establish statewide minimum requirements for all new and existing On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS). That would, mind you, include your standard, run-of-themill home septic tank system, along with its leach field.

Now, I realize this isn’t the most glamourous topic, but it s pretty important as it will likely hit you smack dab in the pocketbook.

The proposed regulation is in response to Assembly Bill 885 which mandated the State Water Board adopt such a regulation.

Once approved, it will set minimum statewide requirements for the permitting, monitoring and operation of OWTS.

Experts estimate the proposed regulation could cost California homeowners, businesses and developers between $350 million and $400 million each year.

If everything goes according to plan, expected implementation date of this new regulation is July 2010.

So, how will the proposed regulation affect you, the owner of an existing septic system? Well, here are a few of the requirements I gleaned from documents posted on the State Water Board’s Web site.

Owners will be required to have their septic tanks inspected for solids accumulations every five years by a qualified service provider. The cost to you for this inspection will be around $325.

If you happen to have an on-site domestic well on your property, you ll have to hire a state certified analytical laboratory to analyze your well water (groundwater) for specified constituents once every five years and report the results to the State Water Board. This one will also cost you about $325.

Where an existing septic system is identified by a Regional Water Board to be contributing to the impairment (pollution) of a specific surface water body, owners of septic systems within 600 feet of the impaired surface water body will be required to have a qualified professional determine whether their septic system is contributing to the impairment problem. If so, the owner will be required to retrofit the septic system with a supplemental treatment system. The estimated retrofit cost will run in the neighborhood of $45,000.

And, what’s the impact upon installation of new septic systems?

Well, in addition to meeting all the requirements for existing systems, the following requirements apply.

A qualified professional must perform a site assessment and design all new septic systems including determinations of seasonal high groundwater.

Systems must be constructed by a state licensed contractor or by the property owner.

Effluent devices (filters) will be installed that retain solids in excess of 3/16 inches in diameter.

Systems that use pumps must have malfunction alarms and an emergency tank capacity to store the waste flow for up to 24 hours.

New septic systems within 600 feet of an impaired surface water body, where the existing septic system has been identified to be contributing to the impairment, must have a supplemental treatment system.

Cost for installation of this new system is estimated at $35,000.

I’ve only highlighted a few of the requirements contained within the proposed regulation. I encourage you to visit the State Water Board Web site at yourself and review all the available documents. They include the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) and the proposed regulation and waiver. A copy of the DEIR is also available at the Shasta County Library in Redding.

Comments on the proposed regulation, draft waiver and Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) must be received or postmarked on or before February 9, 2009. Send your comments to or to the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Water Quality, Attn: Todd Thompson, P.E., 1001 I Street, 15th Floor, P.O. Box 2231, Sacramento, CA 95812.

The State Water Board will be holding workshops throughout the state to receive public comment on the proposed regulation and on the adequacy of the DEIR. The nearest workshop will be held in Redding at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18 in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, Administration Center, 1450 Court St.The State Water Board will be holding workshops throughout the state to receive public comment on the proposed regulation and on the adequacy of the DEIR. The nearest workshop will be held in Redding at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18 in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, Administration Center, 1450 Court St.

Now, I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on septic systems.

But, a quick review reveals some potentially significant concerns, including:

    1. the need for and applicability of domestic well monitoring;


    1. the cost of increasing the level of treatment where required because of siting constraints compared to benefits received by property owners;


    1. the increased cost to develop property;


    1. the increased cost and burden to property owners for testing of existing septic tanks; and


  1. the increased cost to local agencies for enforcement. I’m sure you can come up with a few more.

So, what do you think? Is this new regulation necessary? Are the requirements reasonable? Is it worth the added costs?

Unquestionably, we’ll end up with some fashion of statewide regulation intended to protect our water supply. Its final form and ultimate impact are yet to be determined by the State Water Board and by you.

Col. Pete Stiglich, retired, served 26 years in the US Air Force and lives in Cottonwood.


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