Septic rules could break banks in West Marin

11/10/2011

The California Water Resources Control Board’s new proposed septic regulations are less prescriptive than the set released for public comment in 2008 but still may force many property owners near polluted water bodies in West Marin to make expensive upgrades to their systems.

The draft, which is open to public comments until November 14 at noon, calls for special disinfection and treatment devices that can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 to be added to onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) within 100 feet of pathogen impaired waters—like Tomales Bay and Bolinas beach—and within 600 feet of nitrate impaired waters—such as Walker and Lagunitas creeks. 
The proposed requirements are the latest in the attempted implementation of Assembly Bill 885, which was passed in 2000 and requires statewide regulations for OWTS.

Rebecca Ng, Marin County’s deputy director of environmental health services, said enforcement of the requirements and increased monitoring of surface and groundwater by the county could also run up costs for septic system users. 
“I don’t know what we’re gonna do because we don’t want to put people out of their homes,” she said. “[The state doesn’t] deal with people on a local level and it’s easy for them to say, ‘Well, you have to do this,’ and not deal with them on a personal level. But we do.”

Don Smith, a member of the Bolinas Community Public Utilities District, said the state should identify the exact source of the water contamination before assuming it involves septic systems. Smith cited other mammalian species and fertilizers as possible polluters and said there were technologies, such as Phylochip, to determine which species the pathogens were coming from.

“The most cost effective policy would be to pay attention to the source before spending a lot of money on remediation,” Smith said. “Source tracking is important.” 
According to Ng, the last analysis of Tomales Bay occurred in 2005, before the Phylochip was available.

To read the proposed policy, log onto www.waterboards.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/owts/. Comments can be made via e-mail to owts_commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov with the subject line “Comment Letter – DRAFT OWTS Policy Documents.”