REVIEW: Monte Rio Wastewater Task Force meeting Jan 11
Review of Monte Rio Wastewater Task Group Meeting, January 11, 2010
Personal perspective by Lloyd Guccione, Guerneville
Follow-up letters below
The Monte Rio Wastewater Task Group (MRWWTG) met at the Monte Rio Community Center on Monday evening; January 11th. The Task Group is a group of citizens, property owners (both resident and outside of the area), contractors, and investment – speculator property owners. Its members include Ken Wikle, Dan Fein, Preston Smith, Leo Torr IV, Rene de Monchy, Gary Getchell, Chuck Berger, Doreen Atkinson, Jim Quigley, Steve Mack Richard “Rick” Holmer, Susie Baxman, and Fifth District Supervisor Efren Carrillo. This was the group’s fourth meeting and was important in that it brought together in a panel discussion the lead spokesmen for all the significant agencies that have relevance to the Task Group’s self-defined mission. Panelists included spokespersons from North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Sonoma County Water Agency, Environmental Health and Safety, and Permit and Resources Management Department. Also in attendance was Kathleen Kane (Executive Director Community Development Commission) and twenty-five or so members of the public during the course of the meeting.
Background: The Task Group
The current Task Group was appointed by Kathleen Kane and followed upon two main events. The first was Mr. Mike Reilly’s ‘Amending Resolution’
The demise of the CSWS was due primarily to some glaring organizational and procedural problems, lack of a legitimate funding source to underwrite their efforts, and a legitimacy conferred by county government (e.g. CDC/Redevelopment). All of these shortcomings and difficulties have now apparently been overcome or addressed. The members of the ad-hoc CSWS (now almost all members of the MRWWTG) have learned from their past procedural and organizational errors and miss-steps. Dan Fein deserves much credit in helping the group in this respect as well as in guiding the group toward obtaining the legitimacy the Task Group now has. The funding (underwriting) was addressed by Mr. Reilly’s ‘Amending Resolution’ and the authority it ceded from the RRROC to the Executive Director of the CDC.
Prior to the formation of the CSWS the key players in the CSWS (and now the MRWWTG) had largely been advocates/boosters of the Sheridan Ranch regionalized sewer approach and advocates/boosters of a rebuilding and development of the core (downtown) area of Monte Rio. The group also included individuals with interests and concerns surrounding building on undeveloped (vacant) parcels, renovation, remodeling, and expansion of current structures (residential and commercial). The members of the group, irregardless of their individual motivations and expectations, are all committed, intelligent, and community-minded (albeit each has his or her own important view of what ‘community-minded’ includes or excludes). In general they are all to be thanked for their work, their persistence, and their willingness to learn and accommodate.
On the current MRWWTG there are some notable questioning and constructive divergent perspectives; Doreen Atkinson and Gary Getchell.
The Meeting of Monday January 11, 2020
Dan Fein outlined the intent of the meeting, introduced the panelists, and explained the format for the meeting. Rene de Monchy provided some of the important background issues (AB 885, septic particulars, slopes, and explained a large map he and Preston Smith had created). Dan Fein, Rene de Monchy, and Preston Smith sat at the table in conjunction with the panelists and gave the appearance of being an executive group of the task force (at least for this meeting). The presentations by the three were well delivered, coherent, and avoided unnecessary repetitions. The attention of the public and the other Task Group members was retained and the question-comment/answer-commentary segment also went quite well. This is notable in that the concerns and discussion covered a rather large territory.
Some of the larger points/concerns addressed were; water body impairment and Section 303 (d) designation, AB 885 and its current legislative further working out including a conceptionalized ‘three-tier’ approach modification, Guerneville Treatment Plant status and capacity or lack of capacity issues, UC Davis and other monitoring undertakings, revised PRMD policies, and cost implications of certain approaches. All of these, however, were dealt with only in rather general and perhaps cursory detail. Some of this was due to time limitations, but also due to the outline provided to the panelists in anticipation of the meeting. Several of the panelists cited that they were not prepared to provide requested detail or greater specificity since the outline material they were provided did not provide the advance notice or expectation. This was particularly applicable to the NCWQCB’s spokesman.
The lack of more current detail and specificity can be understood by taking into account the “intent” of the meeting as a general informational outline. In other words the meeting was not structured to allow in-depth review of aspects, questions, or concerns. A further meeting is anticipated for Spring were there may be opportunity to reach for greater substance instead of a review. At least two members of the Monte Rio community; familiar with past efforts and meetings felt the meeting lacked sufficient ‘new’ data or perspectives to sustain their interest. They left the meeting early; slightly disappointed, if not disenchanted. Other members of the public seemed to appreciate the re-opening of the perennial issue and getting a review with some important (although general) updates.
The issue of water body impairment and the Section 303 (d) designation for the Russian River (e.g. Healdsburg at the bridge and that stretch between Fife and Dutch Bill creeks) was addressed. In connection with it Gary Getchell asked about the impact of the low flow regime and its attendant low flow-rates on data results for coliform bacteria and the other criteria of impairment including temperature and turbidity. Mr. Getchell made the point, through his question, that one action to address an issue (low flow to accommodate fishery issues) can and has had a subsequent deleterious effect upon the river. In example, lower river flows have resulted (allowed) in higher temperatures in the summer and the concentration of biologicals and other components that would have been sufficiently diluted (possibly) with what had been ‘normal’ flows before the regime was instituted. It is a clear example of how addressing one problem can lead to a set of new ones that are more intractable, expensive in solution, and politically and socially sensitive that expected. None of the panelists were able to give a sufficient answer either to Mr. Getchell’s question or to the equally important issue it implied.
When the question was raised about how a body or segment receives the 303 (d) designation: ‘How long does a single indicator (temperature, turbidity, coliform count) need to persist to trigger the designation?’ there was no clear responsive reply. There was also no enlightening response to questions regarding such impact specifics as motoring locations, flow-rates corollaries, eddies, water depth, daily or seasonal variations, and time specific events (such as children in a shallow ‘kiddie beach’). Another point that was not clearly or adequately addressed is how the 303 (d) designation can be rescinded. In other words (putting both aspects together) it was not made clear how long a monitoring result must be in effect before 303 (d) is triggered, or how long it must be absent for it to be rescinded. The best the panelists could offer is that it is easier to make the designation that it is to remove it. Perhaps they meant that it is hard to prove a negative and therefore rescinding a designation is exceedingly problematic. Even more simply; they didn’t know.
One of the troubling implications of the lack of a clear response is that a monitoring result, perhaps a single event, could trigger a designation that could take years to address and study and bushels of money and time. Not an encouraging or confidence building scenario. The current regimen has the propensity to initiate miss-leading positives and to act like a blinking light – now on, now off; the regulatory agencies will gladly acknowledge the “on” but have not quite figured out to how to address the “off”. After all, an “off” might well imply a diminishing of their (at any particular moment) purview; something bureaucracies eschew.
The concerns and review of AB 885, the legislature’s bill addressing septic systems state-wide, held little new concrete information. The review of the concerns, as raised by the overflow crowd at the Wells Fargo (Luther Burbank) meeting last February (2009), was good for that (a review) but did not carry things forward. The caveat to that is that the public was informed that it appears the legislature is moving toward a “three-tier” approach to implementation instead of the “one size fits all” approach. However, the changes will not offer any appreciable relief to Monte Rio over the initial AB 885 implications. This is due to Monte Rio’s location on the river, its slopes, and its predominate small (insufficient) lot sizes. While there was some soft comment that something may come out of the legislative/lobbying process this year it was implied that any active implementation of a worked out AB 885 was still many years off.
One limiting factor to the implementation of any worked out AB 885 is funding, and in connection with that the current state of the State’s finances is quite relevant. In addition to the costs to state and local government to implement any plan there is also the potentially prohibitive costs to property owners, the intrusiveness of the inspection requirements, and the inability of government (federal, state, or local) to underwrite or mitigate the costs. AB 885 looks like a well-intended idea; a good theory! But it also is seemingly absolutely impractical to implement. This impracticality; for cost and political reasons (the rural public does not appear to be ready, or willing, to accept it) does not seem to be going away soon.
Although analogies are always imperfect by their very nature they can be helpful. In a fashion AB 885 is like the regulations and changes that occurred in automobiles in pursuit of cleaning up the air. Everyone is for clean air; everyone is for clean water. The problems start when you try to figure out how to get from A to B. With cars we went the route of imposing exhaust emission limits on new cars and greater efficiencies. This lead to a host of innovations and results. The route, however, was not to require everyone to buy a new car and junk their old one. The theory in the car ‘model’ was that given time the newer models would replace the older ones by a kind of natural process.
With AB 885 the implication is otherwise. Still following the car analogy; an AB 885 type of law would have required everyone to have their car inspected yearly, pay $125-130 yearly (to start), and if it failed make the necessary repairs. Start thinking in multiples of 10’s of thousands of dollars. So far in essence not much different. But AB 885 would apply no matter how old your car was. It would be like taking your Model A, or your Bel-Air into inspection and told you didn’t pass and now you need to bring your classic up to current standards; even though yours is running just fine and dandy. Yes-siree-bob… you gotta’ add a catalytic converter, an O2 sensor, an air bag (make that two), a five mile per hour bumper, and you just read down the list yourself. The point is AB 885 is currently impractical and is being used as a “boogey-man” by way too many. And in addition to the annual inspections god help you if you wanted to restore or update your old jalopy or classic (house). If you want to replace more than one rusted fender and one bent bumper you’d get a real wake-up call in the pocket book and in the process (permit) line.
I know that the analogy is weak, but somehow it still gets me in the right kind of mood. Like… I like my old car; I take care of it:… I like my old house, I take care of it. I don’t ask anyone to take my crap away; I take care of it myself. Its my old heap… its my crap (so to speak) and I prefer to keep it that way. Now mind your own business and go and find some other ‘problem’ to fix somewhere else. Don’t need the likes of you round these here parts. We do care for our river, our neighbors, our septics, and our pocketbooks… thank you very much.
The dialog and discussion on MRWTG and the attendant issues has taken off in the past few days and hopefully will reach a point of increased public exposure and responsiveness. It is clear that the Task Group members need to now individually put down in written form; actual pen to paper, what their individual perceptions of the issues and problems. These written presentations should (must) be in the context of the mission statement and the parameters of the Task Group. That means not all their individual problems or concerns, but those relevant to the (their) task at hand. Without these individual written perspectives no effective (firm) understanding will be forthcoming that is not subject to the critique (disparagement) of personal, personal business, bureaucratic, and growth self-service. Truly, the group needs to come to grips with what is self-evident to so many others; the group is refusing to distinguish itself from its previous incarnation; the CSWS, with its more obvious intentions and needs and its equally obvious shortcomings.
There is no need for the individual members of the group to eschew such a task; writing down their views of the issues and problems. Once done let these be made available and (I believe; if done with candor) the result will provide a must needed understanding of the various terrains each brings to the table. Once done this will allow (accommodate) discussion on a level playing field (show your cards!) instead of this money consuming effort being turned into a political game-play.
Mr. Richard Holmer has written to Mr. Todd Thompson of the State Water Resources Control Board a well conceived letter on AB 885. Assembly Bill 885 which concerns septic systems is relevant to those of us hooked up to the Grenville Treatment Plant in that the Plant is being
considered (viewed) as an option (again) by the proponents of a Monte Rio Wastewater Solutions program. Such a prospect could have significant impacts on sewer cost (future assessment increases) as well as other considerations.
I encourage you to share this with your other neighbors.
Please keep yourself informed on the activities and participants in the Monte Rio Wastewater Solutions Task Force of the Community Development Commission/Russian River Redevelopment Project. Get informed about local issues. Participate and have confidence in your own abilities to have an important and relevant impact. Voting is not enough; participation is local issues and goverance is vital.
Text of Mr. Holmer's letter is below:
January 15, 2010
Mr. Todd Thompson, P.E.
Division of Water Quality
State Water Resources Control Board
1001 I Street
P.O. Box 2231
Sacramento, CA 95812
Subject: Comments on “Proposed Regulations and Waiver for Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (Septic Systems) and the Associated Draft Impact Report (EIR)” currently being developed pursuant to AB885
As you know, I was involved with the Sonoma County septic system program for 32 years (until my retirement from public service) and I was in charge of the program from 1995 to 2004. I attended the initial hearings on AB885 as a representative of the County of Sonoma. At that
time, I raised the issue of existing dwellings that would not be able to comply with the proposed regulations due to substandard lot size or other issues. I was assured that this would be dealt with during the process of developing the regulations. My review of the current draft
finds that the language about existing dwellings on septic systems is ambiguous and appears potentially confiscatory. I have detailed my comments on this subject below as well as my comments on other aspects of the regulations.
At this time, I feel that the regulations have significant fatal flaws and should not be adopted due to the unintended consequences which may result. I also feel that the EIR is not adequate particularly in the economic analysis.
My comments follow:
EXISTING DWELLINGS ON SEPTIC SYSTEMS
History: Many areas in California that are served by septic systems were developed primarily for recreational purposes; often when local land use regulations were limited or nonexistent. I will use Sonoma County as an example but this applies to other counties as well.
In Sonoma County there are thousands of lots that were subdivided prior to any septic system regulations or land use planning. Some of these subdivisions date back to the early 1900's. Many of these lots are extremely substandard in size for a septic system based on current
standards. At the time that they were subdivided, the lots were intended for seasonal use and often had only a cesspool or pit privy for sewage disposal. Over the course of time, the residences have become converted to full time occupancy and are often the best source of
affordable housing for low income families.
When conventional septic system standards are applied to these situations, it is simply impossible to meet standards for sizing of absorption fields, setbacks to water ways, depth of soil requirements and many other issues. In response, Sonoma County has developed an
extensive program of alternative wastewater systems that includes the provision for waiver to septic system standards where in can be demonstrated that the system being proposed as a replacement system provides a clear and positive improvement over the existing system and
represents the best available technology for the specific site constraints.
Without this type of approach, the septic systems could not be repaired or replaced and the house would not be able to be occupied. It should be noted that all on-site sewage disposal systems have a finite lifetime and will become subject to repair or replacement at some point. In
order to prevent the widespread condemnation of older housing, the proposed septic system regulations must provide for flexibility in application of the standards to existing houses.
Proposed regulations: The sections of the proposed regulations that mention repair or replacement of septic systems are ambiguous and subject to interpretation. There is no provision for waivers or exemptions to the regulations.
In Section 30000 (definitions), “New OWTS” is defined as “an OWTS permitted after the effective date of this chapter”. Does this mean that the issuance of a permit to repair a system, issued after the effective date of the regulations, triggers meeting the requirements for a new system?
“Existing OWTS” is defined as “an OWTS that was either permitted by the applicable local agency or legally installed before the effective date of this chapter”. This appears to imply that the replacement of a system has to meet all of the requirements.
Section 30001 (b) states that this chapter applies to all new OWTS and only to existing OWTS where specifically indicated. This section speaks only to the OWTS and not to the dwelling. There is no recognition of the need to differentiate between existing houses served by septic systems versus new construction of houses.
In section 30002, there appears to be an attempt to differentiate between new and replaced OWTS. Section 30002 (b) refers to “new and replaced OWTS” having to be designed to maximize treatment of wastewater. Section 30002 (c) states that “new OWTS” “shall be
designed, operated and maintained in accordance with the requirements of this chapter”. Does this mean that replacement OWTS do not have to meet the design requirements? If this is the intent, then it should be clearly stated as such and the standards for a replacement OWTS should
be clarified. This is especially confusing given the requirements under the definitions section described above.
EIR: If the regulations are not flexible in their application to existing dwellings, then there are huge economic impacts that have not been addressed in the economic analysis. This analysis should quantify the number of existing dwellings that would be unable to meet the new standards and would be subject to condemnation. This is a critical aspect of the new regulations that has been completely overlooked. This impact, in my opinion, is potentially the most significant impact of the proposed regulations unless there are changes made to allow existing
houses on septic systems to repair or replace their systems even if they cannot meet the proscriptive standards contained in the regulations.
WELL WATER SAMPLING
Section 30002 (t) requires routine testing of the drinking water well on the property where the OWTS is situated. The specified testing includes a variety of mineral tests for constituents that are not of public health significance. Specifically the required testing includes calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron, manganese, zinc, sulfate, chloride, total alkalinity, carbonate, bicarbonate, MBAS and pH. Although these tests may be of interest to a property owner in determining whether or not they need a water softener or other mineral removal devices, they are not indicative of any kind of threat to the property owner’s health. It is excessive to require these kinds of tests and is an unnecessary expense. Routine testing for coliform organisms and nitrate could be justified.
GROUNDWATER LEVEL MONITORING
Section 30012 sets requirements for monitoring groundwater levels prior to installation of a new OWTS. These requirements stipulate continuous monitoring of groundwater for a period of five months during the winter
what is typically currently required in California. It could also lead to inaccuracies from heavy storms or due to damage to the testing equipment when it is subjected to conditions in the field for five months. Most jurisdictions now require one test during the wettest part of the year. For the purposes of installing a household septic system, this has proven to be adequate. There is inadequate substantiation of problems with the existing testing methods to justify this onerous
Section 30014 (b) requires that “dispersal systems” (leachfields) be designed using only the square footage of bottom area of the trench for infiltration. This is an extremely poor design requirement. It has been repeatedly shown that the bottom area of a leachfield will clog
very quickly during operation due to formation of biofilm and physical clogging with suspended particles in the wastewater. Most jurisdictions in California have required that systems be designed based upon sidewall area of the leach trench because this is the effective absorption area during most of the life of the leachfield. The use of bottom area for sizing will result in wider trenches with less sidewall per linear foot of trench. This will hasten premature failure of the leachfield system when the bottom of the trench becomes clogged. There is no scientific
evidence to support use of bottom area for leachfield sizing.
IMPAIRED WATER BODIES
Section 30040 stipulates that no new system shall be constructed within 600 feet of the “edge of the river bank” of an impaired river. This is extremely vague. Many rivers do not have clearly defined banks. They are often characterized by a series of flood plateaus that can extend great distances from the typical course of water flow. This section would be subject to interpretation that would result in discrepancies between jurisdictions. There are ways to define this
more accurately such as: edge of summer water flow, edge of 10 year flood plane, or edge of floodway.
It is also unclear whether the impaired water body is meant to be simply the area described in the 303(d) listing or also including the tributaries to the listed water body. The maps shown as an attachment to the regulations show all of the tributary streams to the listed water
bodies. For example, a stretch of the lower Russian River from Fife Creek to Dutch Bill Creek is listed as an impaired water body, a relatively small portion of the lower river. Map 20 of the attachment, however, shows every tributary to that stretch of the river as an impaired water body. This is a huge expansion of the 303 (d) listing. If the intent is to include these tributaries, then the regulations become extremely burdensome to property owners.
EIR: The EIR significantly understates the costs to homeowners adjacent to 303 (d) listed water bodies particularly in relation to the attached maps which expand the boundaries of the impaired water bodies. There is no attempt to provide a statewide tally of costs to property owners. There are only estimated costs for a few areas in the state. This does not provide adequate information for the decision makers to make an informed decision on the true economic impacts of adopting these regulations.
Oddly enough, the regulations do not include any requirements for the distance that an OWTS must be located from water wells, rivers, streams, lakes, etc. This is a fundamental provision of any regulation relating to OWTS. The executive summary makes a vague reference to these
setbacks being contained within “existing regulations”. Which existing regulations? The California Plumbing Code, Regional Water Quality Control Board Basin Plans, and individual County Codes all set standards for setback requirements. Often these are contradictory. Having individual jurisdictions adopt their own setback requirements would be in conflict with the goal of having uniform statewide OWTS standards. The proposed regulations should either contain setback standards or should adopt them by reference to another code.
Richard L. Holmer
Registered Environmental Health Specialist #3145
Dear Mr. Guccione,
The draft regulations circulated on Nov. 7, 2008 were retracted on Nov.
The State Water Resources Control Board staff is fully reconsidering ways to fulfill the requirements set forth in Water Code Section 12291 (as added by AB 885 in 2000). We do not currently have a schedule for this process.
Todd Thompson, P.E.
DoD/Site Cleanup Program
Division of Water Quality
State Water Resources Control Board
1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
916 341 5518