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Sonoma County Gazette
Septic near waterway

Updating our Septic System Policies - County Seeks Community Input

Aug 31, 2018


NEW DATES and LOCATIONS for Community Meetings

The County of Sonoma is updating County regulations for septic systems in order to meet state-mandated regulations that protect water quality and public health. Permit Sonoma invites the public to attend upcoming community meetings to share feedback on the proposed Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) Manual.

Find answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to the County’s septic system program and proposed updates to septic

IF YOU NEED HELP Understanding and Complying with the new rules:

In partnership with the County of Sonoma, the Gold Ridge and Sonoma Resource Conservation Districts have hired an ombudsman to provide residents of the lower Russian River with assistance and support regarding changing septic system regulations.

Septic systems, also known as Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS), have been in the news quite a bit lately. In order to combat pathogen pollution concerns, State policies have been updated and County standards for OWTS are being revised. These revisions will change the way OWTS are regulated in Sonoma County, and you may be wondering how the changes will affect you.

While the regulations are still evolving, neighborhoods and communities in the lower Russian River area will be affected in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, making sense of all the laws, manuals and acronyms is no easy task – and for the many residents who depend on OWTS, it can be hard to know where to start. To that end, there is now a resource that is dedicated to providing communities with resources and support regarding the OWTS issue.

David Wood was recently hired as theLower Russian River Ombudsman. Ombudsmen are hired to work in a variety of institutions – from governmental to educational to private organizations – but their essential function is to provide unbiased assistance to individuals with concerns about a specific issue. As a non-regulatory, informational resource, David’s job is to assist residents of the lower Russian River area with OTWS related issues. Specifically, David can help with questions about regulations, provide confidential information to residents about their septic systems and identify grants and other financial assistance opportunities to help them with upgrades or improvements. David will also be tracking other issues related to water quality in the lower Russian River, so that he can help interested residents learn more about how OWTS fit into the larger picture. If you live in the lower Russian River area, David can help.

David can be reached by phone at 707-806-4723 or by email at david@goldridgercd.orgHe has drop-in office hours on Wednesdays between 3:00pm and 7:00pm, and on Thursdays between 9:00am and 12:00pm. He is available on other business days and Saturdays by appointment and will be attending local meetings and community events related to this issue. His office is located at 9925 Main Street, Monte Rio, CA 95462, next to the Monte Rio Amphitheater. If you have an upcoming community event or neighborhood meeting that you would like David to attend, please contact him.

Main Revisions

Septic Near WaterwayThe main differences from the County’s current septic system policy in the proposed manual include:

  • Permit Types. There are three types of permits: new, replacement and repair. New OWTS serve undeveloped properties. Replacement OWTS are for tank replacements and/or dispersal system replacements for developed sites (previously known as a voluntary repair). Repair OWTS allow for the relatively minor work: distribution box, valves, etc.
  • Classifications. Class I, II and III classifications would be replaced with references to either Code Compliant or Legal Non-Conforming systems
  • Code Compliant OWTS means a system that is in conformance with this OWTS Manual, or meets the intent of the standards by proposing mitigation measures that are equal to the standards.  A Code Complaint OWTS can be new or existing. 
  • Variances. Code compliant does not mean that you need a new system or that you meet each and every standard. The County allows variances from the standards provided sufficient mitigation is provided. The proposed policy allows more variance issues and more mitigation measures.
  • Voluntary Repairs. Previous voluntary repairs regulations would be eliminated. Typical voluntary repairs include replacing dispersal systems. A new or replacement dispersal system must meet a two (2) foot separation to groundwater, have adequate soil type and depth, and be designed by an appropriately licensed professional defined as qualified consultants in the State Business and Professions Code.
  • Building Permits. Prior policies required a septic evaluation for most building permits. The proposed policy requires a septic system evaluation or possibly a new code compliant system only when the project increases wastewater flow and/or strength to the existing system. The proposed policies also evaluates the location of the proposed building/construction relative to the septic system and reserve area. The intent is to avoid physical impacts to the septic system. In certain cases, reserve replacement areas will be evaluated or required.
  • Alternative & Experimental Systems. The proposed policy expands the list of currently approved and conditionally acceptable experimental and/or alternative systems and elaborates on the criteria and process to enroll various innovative technology/systems into either the experimental system program and/or the alternative system program.
  • Financial Hardship. The propose policy creates financial hardship provisions, that if meet, would exempt a client from the standards.  The septic system would need to comply with the standards to maximum extent feasible.
  • Waiver. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a revised Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements that now includes OWTS that cannot meet the two (2) foot separation to groundwater. If the system cannot meet the two (2) foot separation standard, the client would have to apply to the NCRWQCB for their wavier.  Local agencies cannot waive this standard according to the State’s OWTS Policy, but will act as the technical lead for review.


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