Septic plan may impact thousands | SierraSun.com

Septic plan may impact thousands

Laura Brown
Sun News Service

NEVADA COUNTY “-State water board officials will come to Nevada County next week seeking public comment on a proposal to tighten septic tank regulations, a plan that could affect 25,000 households as well as future housing projects.

If approved, the draft regulations will affect owners of more 1.2 million existing septic tanks statewide as well as new septic tank systems.

“I want everyone who has concerns to go to that workshop,” said Wesley Nicks, director of the Nevada County’s environmental health department.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 10, the State Water Resources Control Board will conduct a workshop in the Nevada County Board of Supervisors chambers at 950 Maidu Ave., in Nevada City.

In Nevada County, an estimated 25,000 households use septic or site waste water tanks, said Nicks.

Modifying regulations of septic tanks could mean higher costs for homeowners and developers, but it also could make more lots buildable using new septic technology to deal with thin soils, Nicks said.

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“It may be a big expense for nothing,” said Terry Robinson, of Nevada City, whose family has used a septic tank for more than 15 years without problems.

If approved, the new septic laws would require property owners to hire a professional to test wells for water quality and inspect septic tanks for solid accumulation every five years, according to the water board.

Pumping full tanks can cost anywhere between $300 and $500, Nicks said. But additional costs are required to unearth the tank, said Robinson.

In addition, requiring new technology could make it more expensive to develop property, Nicks said.

Designing septic tanks for California’s vastly differing geology is not addressed in the new regulations.

“There’s a lot of variables in how a system can be designed. These regulations don’t really address those variables,” Nicks said.

It is also unclear how the state will manage enforcing the rules without help from county jurisdictions. As the draft regulations are now written, counties will not be obligated to offer assistance, Nicks said.

The controversial changes have been in the works since 2000, when a statute was passed with AB 885 to protect the quality of surface and groundwater.

The State Legislature has directed the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt regulations to conform with that statute.

Nevada County’s thin soils have put some homeowners ahead of the curve in adopting newer technology that conforms with the new regulations, Nicks said.

Since 1998, environmental health has issued permits for advanced septic systems with new technology, Nicks said.

“In a way we’re better off than most counties. We’ve been allowing technology to solve some of our problems,” Nicks said.

The proposed regulations, draft environmental impact report, and related information are posted on the State Water Board’s Web site at: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/ water_issues/programs/septic_tanks/.

Written comments can also be sent by submitting them to either AB885@ waterboards.ca.gov or to 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.

Comments must be received or postmarked by February 9, 2009.