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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

AB 885 Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems in California

Possible Re-Schedule of Workshop/Hearing and Extension of deadline - stay tuned!

The Workshop/meeting on Tuesday, January 27th ended abruptly because fire marshals assessed the overflow crowd as being more than the space could hold and therefore unsafe. People had come from many miles and hours away to attend. Many were angry. Deadline for comments is February 9th - read on! - Vesta

I guess the State Water Resources Control Board had no idea how many people would show up for this workshop. The Merlot Theater at Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa was packed from wall-to-wall and out into the halls. Standing room only doesn't quite describe the throngs who are interested - and angry - about this proposed legislation.

As the room spilled out into the foyer, I spent some time with a couple from Clear Lake. One year ago they had completed construction on a brand new house 17 feet above the water. “Over our dead bodies,” was their reaction to the concept that they would have to have their septic system inspected every five years, upgrade, or have their property condemned if it didn't meet non-polluting standards. So in addition to being angry that the state is proposing strict regulations for waste disposal systems near bodies of water, they were also angry that the meeting was shut down after they had driven so far to attend.

From an environmentalists view, I understand completely why the state wants - and needs - to protect our water systems. From a homeowners perspective, I understand how people feel alarmed that they may not be able to do anything but move. Until California legalizes and regulates alternative waste systems, we are stuck with septics and sewers. For many areas, sewer systems are out of the range of possibility and septic systems that meet modern regulations are impossible. Either there is too little land near the home or the home owners have insufficient funds to deal with an upgrade.

Many people are proposing that homeowners get financing/funding available through the state if they have to upgrade. Along the Russian River, many homes are former summer cabins and are considered existing Affordable Housing in our communities. If these properties are condemend because the septic systems no longer function efficiently, then the people living in the homes will be dispalced.

At prevoious meetings over the last few years we have brought up the conept of composting toilets and other alternative systems that are not currently approved by the state and county. These systems have been proven as efficient and function well for decades, but have yet to be considered as alternatives to septics. One of the reasons brought up at a previous meeting is that they would open up currently un-buildable lots to building. Perhaps it's time to consider that these systems could solve problems efficiently and relatively inexpensively.

Condiser that a to-code septic system can cost between $10,000 to$60,000 to install. That a sewer system costs millions and costs homeowners thousands to hook into, then includes annual fees. Composting toilets look mighty cheap by comparison. There are still issues of waste disposal, however, so it's not a perfect solution.

There's much to learn - and read.

Please read below to learn more and if you have comments that you want put on record, please submit them on the DEIR so that the state will consider your thoughts.

State Water Resources Control Board
Division of Water Quality
1001 I Street • Sacramento, California 95814 • (916) 341-5455
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 100 • Sacramento, California • 95812-0100
FAX (916) 341-5463 •

To: All Interested Parties

Available for review and comment are the Assembly Bill 885 (AB 885) Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) proposed regulations, proposed statewide conditional waiver of waste discharge requirements (proposed waiver), and draft environmental impact report (DEIR). We are sending you this notice because of your potential interest in this important subject.

The full texts of the proposed regulations, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and the Initial Statement of Reasons are posted on the State Water Resources Control Board’s (State Water Board’s) website at The proposed waiver and DEIR are posted and are also available for review with the proposed regulations at the libraries listed on Enclosure 1 in this notice. You may also contact the person listed below for a copy. The documents are described below:

Proposed Regulations: The proposed regulations are intended for all OWTS statewide and contain differing requirements for new and existing OWTS. They are written to satisfy the requirements of sections 13290 through 13291.7 of the California Water Code. The proposed regulations will be included in Title 27, Division 5 of the California Code of Regulations and consist of the following four articles:
Article 1: Definitions, applicability of the regulations, and general requirements;
Article 2: Groundwater level determinations for new OWTS;
Article 3: Requirements for supplemental treatment and OWTS dispersal systems;
Article 4: Requirements for protecting impaired surface waters.

Proposed Waiver: The proposed waiver is independent of the proposed regulations but contains the same requirements. The proposed waiver will allow owners of OWTS to avoid filing a report of waste discharge to a Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Water Board) as long as the provisions of the proposed waiver are complied with. Regional Water Boards would retain the authority to issue individual waste discharge requirements or region-wide waivers as long as they are no less stringent than the waiver proposed for adoption by the State Water Board.

DEIR: Adoption of the proposed regulations and proposed waiver is a discretionary action by the State Water Board and is therefore subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), California Public Resources Code section 21000 et seq. In compliance with CEQA requirements, a DEIR has been prepared for the proposed regulations and proposed waiver.

WORKSHOPS: State Water Board staff is also conducting eleven (11) public workshops and a hearing (see Enclosure 2) to receive oral and written comments regarding the State Water Board’s proposed regulatory actions. We encourage attendance at any or all of these workshops regarding the proposed regulations, the proposed waiver, and DEIR.

COMMENTS: Comments on the proposed regulations, proposed waiver, and DEIR must be received or postmarked on or before February 9, 2009. Please submit comments regarding these documents to or to the address below:
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
f you have any questions, please contact Mr. Todd Thompson (primary) at (916) 341-5518 or

The following is a list of public libraries where the State Water Board’s Draft Programmatic EIR for the Statewide Onsite Wastewater Treatment Regulations is available for public review.

San Diego Public Library
820 E Street
San Diego, CA 92101-6416

Kern County Library
701 Truxton Avenue
Bakersfield, CA 93301

Orange County Public Library
1501 E. St Andrew Place
Santa Ana, CA 92705

Riverside Central Library
3581 Mission Inn Avenue
Riverside, CA 92501

Los Angeles Public Library
630 West 5th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071

Riverside County Library
Palm Desert Branch
73-300 Fred Waring Drive
Palm Desert, CA 92260

Fresno County Public Library
2420 Mariposa Street
Fresno, CA 93721

Palmdale City Library
700 East Palmdale Boulevard
Palmdale, CA 93550

Norman Feldheym Central Library
555 West 6th Street
San Bernardino, CA 92410

Modesto-Stanislaus Central Library
1500 I Street
Modesto, CA 95354

San Francisco Public Library
Stegner Environmental Center
Civic Center
100 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

Sacramento Central Library
828 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Fairfield-Suisun Community Library
1150 Kentucky Street
Fairfield, CA 94533

Central Sonoma County Library
211 E Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404

Shasta County Library
1100 Parkview Ave.
Redding, CA 96001

Humboldt County Library
1313 Third Street
Eureka, CA 95501

Salinas Public Library
350 Lincoln Ave.
Salinas, CA 93901

San Luis Obispo City-County Library
P.O. Box 8107
San Luis Obispo, CA 93403

WORKSHOPS AND HEARINGS - coming up (they have been having these since early December)

January 27, 2009; 7 p.m.
Wells Fargo Center for the Arts
Merlot Theater
50 Mark West Springs Road
Santa Rosa, CA

January 28, 2009; 7 p.m.
Eureka High School Auditorium
1915 J Street
Eureka, CA

February 9, 2009; 1:30 p.m.
Byron Sher Auditorium
Cal EPA Building
1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA

Here are some comments that will be presented on February 9th in Sacramento - maybe these will help you draft your comments:

The Water Board knows the level of hardship they will be imposing, and their Draft EIR fails to do two simple arithmetic exercises to "connect the dots" and make the point clearly:

1. The Water Board adoped a "Small Community Wastewater Strategy" in SWB Resolution 2008-0048 which adopted the USDA's affordability criteria of 1.5% of median household income for wastewater outlays. 1.5% is $900 per the 2007 Calif MHI of $60,000. If the State Revolving Fund loaned the entire $45,000 cost (per the DEIR estimate) of a replacement septic, at its lowest 2.5% interest and maximum 20 year loan, the payments would be $2861/yr, plus $2000/yr estimated maintenance, totalling $4861/yr which is 8.1% of MHI, or 5.4 times the "affordability criteria." This is a significant economic impact under the best of circumstances.

2. In Section 13291.5 of the AB885 text, it state the intent of the Legislature to lend financial assistance to Owners whose cost of compliance exceeds 1/2 of 1% of the current assessed value of their property. With a Calif median home value of $350,000 (July, 08), 1/2 of 1% is $1,750, obviously it was less when AB885 was passed in 2000. Clearly, the Legislature intended the compliance costs to be modest, or backstopped with State assistance. The regs are not modest and there is no State assistance. The estimated septic replacement cost to comply is $45,000, and with no State assistance, the homeowner is facing a cost 25 times the Legislature's intent. Surely the Water Board is aware that this costly regulation oversteps the Legislature's intent. There is no mention of this economic impact or any discussion of this intent in the circulated docs.

How could the Water Board fulfill its AB885 mandate with less economic impact?

Several suggestions:

1. Delay compliance until grants are available to fund that portion of costs exceeding a reasonable baseline of affordability.
2. Adopt a lesser standard. AB885 doesn't mandate the that the Water Board adopt the toughest new standard in the nation, just that it adopt uniform minimum standards. They could adopt Statewide a pre-existing Basin Plan's standards with far less upset and strife.
3. Provide for "readily achieveable" compliance to a lesser standard based on baseline affordability costs and an engineer's recommendation on the best measure for the dollars available and the site in question.
4. Embrace new technologies.

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