Stealth Update Reply
Below, posted with permission, is Keith Wimer’s response to the recent RWQCB ‘s update of the onsite systems section of the Basin Plan, 0005 & 00o6. His response is long, but for dedicated Sewerites, interesting. So far as I can tell, people living outside of the Los Osos PZ – i.e. all of the county – are clueless that this update is in the works (public comment on the draft closed April 7 and to my knowledge none of the people owning legally permitted (by the county) septic systems got so much as a postcard telling them about this draft update and comment period).
Well, they’ll find out once its stealths its way to the State Water Board and a few years down the line – when it will be too late to object – people on septics throughout the county who laughed at Los Ososians will wake up to find Roger Briggs on their doorstop sayaing scientific things like, " common knowledge tells us . . . ." Then the laughter will die in their throats and start up in the throats of all Los Ososians. (Poor Ron Crawford over at http://www.sewerwatch.blogspot.com/ is already having vapors and cold chills. He lives in Santa Margarita.) And, Oh, wait, I forgot, people in Los Osos who live outside the PZ who are also clueless as to this “update” will be in for some chortling surprises as well.
Keith’s letter and comments:
April 2, 2008
Central Coast Water Board
895 Aerovista Place, Suite 101
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
RE: Response to Basin Plan Revisions
Honorable Board Members:
The proposed revisions to the Basin Plan should not be approved.
As recommended, the revisions are vague and confusing, impose unknown and unfunded costs on individuals and agencies, and they’re inconsistent with applicable standards, policies, laws, and ordinances, including the draft state-wide AB 885 ordinance.
The changes, if approved, will discourage on-site system use, water recycling, decentralized (cluster) systems, and possibly STEP/STEG systems in the Region, at a time when local, state, and federal agencies are looking to these options to help communities protect water quality and deal with looming water and energy shortages in cost-effective ways. In other words, the changes may do more harm than good to the Region’s waters, people, and economy.
Rather than attempt to amend these proposals, your Board should postpone implementation of any new regulations relative to onsite systems and discharge until you have thoroughly reviewed related laws and policies, industry standards, current research on new onsite technology, additional stakeholder input from the Region, and the progress achieved at the state level on AB 885. I’ve provided links to a number of relevant resources.
At a minimum, Basin Plan changes should use the same definitions and terminology used by virtually all wastewater authorities, and they should incorporate many more of the standards from the draft 885 ordinance. New language should also incorporate state and federal policies prioritizing sustainability, water conservation, energy-efficiency, and adequate funding. Finally, new regulations should be consistent with Basin Plan goals and the Porter-Cologne Act, which require economic feasibility and water recycling to be considered in water quality objectives. Note that the only references to these were deleted from the sections under consideration (see Chapter 4, VIII.D, pages 5 & 6).
The Region is looking to your Board to lead us into a 21st Century, in which the people and businesses of the Region have ample water, as well as clean water, to support a thriving economy. Limiting the use of onsite and decentralized systems can actually take us in the opposite direction.
A complete history and review of the AB 885 ordinance development process, with stakeholder input, is presented in the National Decentralized Water Resources Capacity Development Project, June 2004, available at http://www.ndwrcdp.org/userfiles/ACFoc1vrb.pdf. This contains a “Model Ordinance” by experts in the field of wastewater (Appendix K). The SWRCB website contains the AB 885 draft ordinance and EIR documents. Note that the SWRCB identified potentially “significant impacts” from the AB 885 ordinance (see AB 885 Initial Study, SWRCB website). Attached are more complete explanations of why the proposed changes should not be approved (with citations and attachments), along with a summary explaining why adoption of this language will lead the Region toward a less sustainable future. .
Attachments: Additional Reasons, Sustainability Summary, Works Cited, Attachments #1-#10 (38 pages total)
Problematic proposed revisions
Chapter 4 “Implementation Plan”
(Proposed amendments are underlined; my comments are italicized)
VIII.D. “Individual and Community Onsite Wastewater Systems”
Note: The wording in Section VIII.D (in the documents showing changes available on the CCWQCB’s website) varies from wording Section VIII.D in the Basin Plan on the website. The differences include the title of the section, along with the titles and content of several subsections. In the Basin Plan the title of Section VIII.D is “Individual, Alternative, and Community Wastewater Systems;” on the version with proposed changes the title is “Individual, Alternative, and Community Onsite Systems” (emphasis added). If these changes have already been approved, they should be reconsidered because they add to the vagueness and potential confusion of the section. In effect, these changes (if they are changes) appear to have narrowed the definition of community systems to include only systems with on-site treatment components (e.g., STEP/STEG systems) and not other types of community systems (e.g., gravity, vacuum, and low-pressure systems). It is also not clear whether it refers to decentralized systems (or cluster) systems. For the Basin Plan to provide clear direction and adequately address and regulate wastewater alternatives, at a minimum, it must dedicate separate sections to (1) onsite systems, (2) STEP/STEG systems (and possibly other pressurized systems), and (3) gravity systems—as they all have different standards and potential benefits and requirements that would need to be addressed.
VIII.D.1.a (Pages 3-5)
The first paragraph of the subsection (third paragraph, right column, page 3) states, “It is incumbent upon local governing jurisdictions to develop and implement programs to ensure conformance with this Basin Plan and local regulations” adding “Such programs shall include (but are not be (sic) limited to) procedures to…(with several procedures listed)” This expands local agencies’ responsibilities from administering “inspection programs” to complete responsibility for brining all systems into “conformance”with the Basin Plan and local regulations. The Basin Plan’s objectives are vague in most cases, while the “not limited to language makes the requirement even more open-ended.
The sixth paragraph on Page 4 (left column) states, “Local agencies should ensure the terms of the enforcement actions are entered into the public record.” This places the obligation on local agencies to formally notify residents of Regional Board enforcement actions.
The second paragraph on Page 4 (right column) states, “To protect this set-aside area (for a second leach field?--see note below) from encroachment, the local agency shall require restrictions on future use of the area as a condition of land division or building permit approval.” This requirement may make some lots unbuildable. Additionally, the language is vague, as “Onsite disposal area” was earlier defined (right column, paragraph 8, page 2) as “application area (trench, pit, bed) and surrounding 100’ radius from any point in the application area that may be influenced by discharge from the disposal system.”
The first paragraph on page 5 (right column) states, “Repairs to failing systems all shall be done under permit from the local agency. The local agency shall require failing systems to be brought into compliance with Basin Plan recommendations, requirements and prohibitions: or repair criteria consistent with locally implemented onsite management plan (approved by the Central Coast Water Board Water Board Executive Officer).” This requires local agencies to formulate ordinances, police failing septic systems, and compel homeowners to comply with orders. It also appears to place liability on the local agency for failing to stop pollution. Further, the requirement is open-ended. The definition of a “failed system” (second paragraph, Page 2, right column) states, “Failed or failing onsite system is any system that displays symptoms of inadequate dispersion, treatment or assimilation of wastewater. These may include, but are not limited to, surfacing effluent, lush growth above the leach area, sluggish house drains, impacts to surface or groundwater from the onsite discharge, odors, frequent pumping, or backflow into tank when pumped.” The “not limited to” in addition to the inclusion of “impacts to surface or groundwater” as criteria for failing systems leaves total discretion to the Executive Officer as to whether a system is failing.
The second paragraph on page 5 (left column) states, “Land use changes should not be approved by the local agency until the existing onsite system meets criteria of this Basin Plan and local ordinances.” This expands the original language, which applied to “commercial, institutional or industrial uses” to include individual uses. The change apparently prevents any land use changes, even General Plan Updates, until onsite systems meet all Basin Plan criteria.
“Requirements” #5 (page 5) states “Wastewater Management Plans shall be prepared and implemented for urbanizing and high density areas served by onsite wastewater systems,” This apparently requires local agencies to undertake planning efforts but does not refer to funding sources.
“Requirements” #6 (page 5) states, “Local jurisdictions shall require replacements or repairs to failing systems to be in substantial conformance (to the greatest extent practicable) with Basin Plan recommendations, requirements and prohibitions or the local onsite wastewater management plan.” Since a local onsite wastewater management plans "shall be approved by the Central Coast Water Board Executive Officer,” (third paragraph, page 6, right column), little authority will reside with local agencies on how to implement this language (e.g., deciding what “practicable” means).
“Requirements” #7 (page 5) states, “Local jurisdictions shall ensure that alternative onsite systems owners are provided an informational maintenance or replacement document by the system design engineer or representative … (which)… cite(s) homeowner procedures to ensure maintenance, repair, or replacement of critical items within 48 hours following failure.” This requirement is burdensome on agencies and may not even be possible for homeowners. It is also not consistent with the Draft AB 885 statewide ordinance.
“Prohibitions” #9 (page 5) states, “Alternative systems are prohibited unless consistent with a locally implemented onsite wastewater management plan approved by the Central Coast Water Board Executive Officer.” This, again, reflects that all discretionary authority resides with the Executive Officer.
VIII.D.1.b. “Onsite Waste Water Management Plans”
The first paragraph of this subsection (sixth paragraph, page 5, right column) states, “Onsite wastewater management plans shall be implemented in urbanizing areas to investigate and mitigate long-term cumulative impacts resulting from continued use of individual, alternative, and community onsite wastewater systems.” This appears to place responsibility for cleaning up any polluted waters on agencies, and the requirement is open-ended because it goes on to state, “Onsite wastewater management plans shall include (but not be limited to) the following elements:” (including) “Survey and evaluation of existing onsite systems…Water quality (ground and surface water) monitoring program…Alternative means of disposing of sewage in the event of disposal system failure and/or irreversible degradation from onsite disposal…Education and outreach program…Enforcement options…Septage management…Program administration, staffing, records keeping, installation and repairs tracking, and financing.”
VIII.D.2. “Criteria for New Systems”
The first paragraph of this subsection (paragraph 5, right column, page 6) states, “The following section includes criteria for all new onsite wastewater disposal systems. Local governing jurisdictions should incorporate these criteria and guidelines into their local ordinances. These criteria will be used by the Central Coast Water Board for Water Board regulated systems and exemptions. In the context of these criteria, new systems shall refer to onsite wastewater systems approved after May 9, 2008.” This language converts all the former recommended onsite system criteria to requirements (e.g.., all the requirements and prohibitions on pages 7-9).
The second paragraph on page 7 (left column) states, “Local agencies may authorize alternative onsite systems consident with locally implemented onsite wastewater management plans approved by the Central Coast Water Board Executive Officer.” Once again, complete discretion is granted the Executive Officer. This potentially removes a means of correcting on-site problems, if the Executive Officer prohibits alternative solutions.
VIII.D.2.a “Site Suitability”
“Requirements” #4 states (page 7), “At least one soil boring or excavation per onste system shall be performed to determine soil suitability, depth to ground water, and depth to bedrock or impervious layer…and be performed during or shortly after the wet season to characterize the most limiting conditions. Limiting boring samples only to a certain time of year can place an onerous burden on the homeowner, delaying an entire building process for up to a year.
“Requirements” #11 (page 8) states, “Onsite disposal systems on slopes greater than 20% shall be designed by a certified professional.” This language is vague. Does it refer alternative systems or only “Engineered systems?”
“Prohibitions” #13 (page 8) states, For new land divisions (including lot splits served by onsite systems, lot sizes less than one acre are prohibited unless authorized under an onsite management plan approved by the Central Coast Water Board Executive Officer. For the purpose of this prohibition, secondary units are considered ‘defacto’ lot splits and shall not be constructed on lots less than two acres in size.” This is an arbitrary requirement, not supported by science. One-half acre is considered to be adequate to avoid contaminant loading in the soil. Further, alternative systems (with supplemental treatment) are not limited by lot size.
“Prohibitions” # 18 (page 8) states, “Onsite discharge is prohibited where lot sizes, dwelling densities or site conditions cause detrimental impacts to water quality.” This is vague and open-ended, once again affording complete discretion to the Executive Officer to decide which “densities or site conditions cause detrimental impacts to water quality.” Further, this language assumes all discharges are equal (i.e., all discharge is waste or pollution); whereas, some onsite systems produce tertiary treated water for beneficial uses. The introduction to this section of Chapter 4 (second paragraph, page 1, right column) also indicates that all discharge is considered non-beneficial, i.e., “Onsite wastewater systems may be used to treat and dispose of wastewater.” This equates treated water with wastewater.
“Prohibitions” #20 (page 8) states, “Onsite discharge is prohibited in any area where continued use of onsite systems constitutes a public health hazard, an existing or threatened condition of water pollution, or nuisance.” This is open-ended and vague, again affording total discretion ultimately to the Executive Officer. Paragraph three on page 3 defines a threatened condition as “… one that if left uncorrected may cause or contribute to water quality or public health impacts. This language, especially when considered with language pertaining to failing systems (noted above), does little to narrow the applicability of the prohibition, in effect, allowing the Executive Officer discretion to prohibit any discharge at any time.
VIII.D.2.b. “Onsite System Design”
“Requirements” #9 (page 9) states, “Leachfield loading application rate shall not exceed the following” (followed by a chart of loading rates). This prescriptive language, in addition to other criteria, e.g., percolation rates, adds multiple layers of conditions and regulatory burden.
“Requirements” #14 (page 9) states, “All onsite disposal systems shall reserve an expansion area (additional 100% disposal capacity to be set aside and protected from all uses except future drainfield repair and replacement. Community systems shall install dual drainfields (200% disposal capacity) and reserve replacement area (3rd 100% disposal capacity). This, again, is vague, and may preclude many land uses, due to the requirement that large portions are set aside for individual and community disposal systems, when, in fact, advanced systems (e.g., that treat the water to reuse standards) would make this requirement unnecessary.
“Requirements” #17 (page 9) states, “Where site conditions permit water migration of wastewater to water, setback distances from disposal trench/pit shall be at least” (with set back distances listed). This language is extremely vague and discretionary—even with the possible misprint corrected.
“Prohibitions” #23 (page 10) states, “Inflow and infiltration shall be precluded from the system unless design specifically accommodates such excess flows.” With out reference to industry standards, this allows the Executive Officer to decide what flows are appropriate.
VIII.D.2.c. “Design for Alternative and Engineered Systems”
“Requirements” #4 (page 10) states, “Alternative and engineered onsite wastewater systems shall be located, designed, installed, operated, maintained, and monitored in accordance with a locally implemented onsite management plan approved by the Central Coast Water Board Executive Officer.” This language, without reference to industry standards, permits the Executive Officer to prohibit the use of a system arbitrarily.
“Prohibitions” #4 states, Alternative and engineered onsite wastewater systems are prohibited, except where consistent with a locally implemented onsite management plan approved by the Central Coast Water Board Executive Officer.” (See comment for previous paragraph.)
VIII.D.2.e. “Onsite System Maintenance”
“Requirements” #3 -#6 (pages 11 & 12) state, “Onsite wastewater systems shall be maintained in accordance with approved onsite management plans. Where onsite management plans have not been approved by the Central Coast Water Board Executive Officer, onsite systems shall be maintained as described in the following specifications.” (with #4 specifying that tanks will be pumped every 5 years; #5 stating that disposal of solids will be “accomplished in a manner acceptable to the Central Coast Water Board Executive Officer;” and #6 requiring the system owner to maintain “Records of maintenance, pumping, septage disposal, etc.” with records “available upon request.” This is vague and the 5-year requirement is arbitrary (i.e., not applicable to many systems and situations). The language makes homeowners responsible for a mandate, but does not provide for their notification of the requirement.
VIII.D.2.g. “Onsite Wastewater System Prohibition Areas”
#3 states, “Discharges from individual and community sewage disposal systems are prohibited, effective November 1, 1988, in the Los Osos/Baywood Park area…” The Los Osos prohibition was implemented many years ago, but language in this section has been changed—possibly redefining what is meant by “community sewage disposal systems” The language may now mean the prohibition applies to STEP/STEG and decentralized systems, but not conventional gravity, low-pressure, or vacuum systems?
VIII.D.2.h. “Subsurface Disposal Exemptions”
The third paragraph on page 12 (right column) states, The Central Coast Water Board or Executive Officer may grant exemption to prohibitions for: (1) engineered new onsite wastewater systems for sites unsuitable for standard systems: and (2) new or existing onsite systems…” adding “Such exemptions may be granted only after presentation by the discharger of sufficient justification, including geologic and hydrologic evidence that the continued operation of such system(s) in a particular area will not individually or collectively, directly or indirectly, result in pollution or nuisance, or affect water quality adversely. Individual, alternative, and community systems shall not be approved for any area where it appears that the total discharge of leachate to the geological system, under fully developed conditions, will cause: (1) damage to public or private property; (2) ground or surface water degradation; (3) nuisance; or, (4) a public health hazard.” This places an unfair burden on “dischargers” to prove that a system meets very vague criteria and/or standards.
Response to proposed changes to Chapters 4 & 5 of the Central Coast Basin Plan
Keith Wimer, 4/7/08
Reason #1—Unfunded mandates will lead to ineffective implementation and conflicts.
Per the May 9 “Staff Report,” upon approval of the “Resolution,” all homeowners in the Region not hooked up to a community system will be subject to the new provisions. Where it is “mutually beneficial,” local agencies can negotiate MOU’s that require them to implement management plans, which “…regulate siting, design, construction, monitoring, and performance” of systems “in accordance with criteria specified in the Basin Plan” (p. 2). Agencies which sign MOUs will have to revise ordinances to align with new requirements, issue permits for system repairs, enforce the new criteria, and “identify additional measures …to identify and address areas of degraded groundwater or surface water quality where onsite wastewater treatment systems are a potential source of pollution” (“Staff Report,” p. 3). With numerous, open-ended, and unfunded requirements, it is doubtful agencies will choose to enter into MOUs. If they do, they will incur considerable costs for managing the program, and they will undoubtedly pass the costs onto consumers in the form of high fees or rate increases.
Homeowners not covered by agency MOUs, must submit applications to the Regional Board, pay fees, and meet all the proposed new criteria. Referring to Resolution 69-01, new language in Chapter 5 reads, “The Resolution …states Regional Board intention to take enforcement action, if local jurisdictions fail to manage wastewater systems in a water quality protective manner” (“Staff Report,” p. 2; Chapter 5, Part III, page 1). In the not too distant future, therefore, thousands of people within the Region will be required to meet all proposed regulations, pay fees, have their systems tested and inspected for compliance with new standards, pay for needed upgrades—or face enforcement actions. An unknown number of homeowners will be told they must stop using their systems because they’re in a prohibition zone.
Although the “Resolution” “…finds (the) costs to be reasonable,” agencies and individuals are not likely to (“Resolution,”p.2). Both are likely to avoid full implementation of the requirements, due to costs, resulting in poorly implemented plans. The USEPA considers inadequate funding a main reason for ineffective management plans, which, in turn, leads to poor onsite system performance. It suggests that “statewide public financing programs” and “cost-share grants” are needed for successful programs (USEPA, 2008) (also see Attachment #2).
The authors of AB 885 recognized the significant cost impacts of a statewide ordinance, so added, “It is the intent of the Legislature to assist private property owners with existing systems who incur costs as a result of the implementation of the regulations under this section by encouraging the state board to make loans…” (Water Code § 13291.7). However, the current proposed changes do not to provide assistance for agencies or individuals. Without a funding source for the proposed changes, the changes will undoubtedly meet considerable resistance from many sides. A percentage of homeowners and agencies will fail to comply, forcing the Regional Board to increase oversight and enforcement actions—adding significantly to Board workloads to achieve marginal results.
Reason #2—Vague, confusing, and open-ended language will lead to ineffective implementation and conflicts.
The title and wording of Chapter 4, Section VIII.D. makes the intent of the section confusing (p. 1) (also see Attachment #1, p. 1). A person reading the title, with “Onsite” added, is not sure whether the language refers to decentralized (cluster) systems and/or STEP/STEG systems along with onsite systems. (Note: The title of VIII.D., and several subsections are different from the Basin Plan posted on the website; an added word “onsite” appears in the version with proposed changes, but it is not underlined, nor are other altered or deleted Basin Plan sections identified with underlines or strikethroughs, e.g., Subsection VIII.D.3.f. “Community System Design”—see Attachment #5, p.2). If the language of this section does refer to decentralized and STEP/STEG systems, it should say so—and if it applies to low-pressure and vacuum systems, it should say so as well. All of these systems have onsite components and can be part of decentralized systems. If the language does not apply to low-pressure and vacuum systems, or centralized gravity systems, where are these systems covered?
Virtually all official wastewater resources use the terms “on-site, decentralized, and centralized” when categorizing wastewater systems. They also identify STEP/STEG, low-pressure, and vacuum systems specifically. If the proposed changes are to be clear, they must use standard terms and identify these major types of systems specifically.
When compared to the EPA definition of “decentralized” system, the revised proposed Basin Plan definitions for “community onsite” and “onsite system” highlight the need for clear terminology. The proposed language defines “Community systems” as “(1) residential wastewater treatment systems serving more that 5 units or more than 5 parcels, or (2) commercial institutional or industrial systems treating sanitary wastewater equal to or greater than 2,500 gallons per day…,” and it defines onsite systems by saying “onsite wastewater systems may be used to treat and dispose of wastewater from: (1) individual residences; (2) multi-unit residences; (3) institutions or places of commerce” (Chapter 4, VIII.D., page 1) The USEPA’s 1997 Report to Congress on the Use of Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems (p. A-1) defines a cluster system as “a decentralized wastewater collection and treatment system where two or more dwellings, but less than an entire community, is served,” and Crites and Tchobanoglous, in a widely-used text book entitled Small and Decentralized Wastewater Management Systems state “Decentralized wastewater management (DWM) may be defined as the collection, and treatment, and disposal/reuse of wastewater from individual homes, clusters of homes, isolated communities, industries, or institutional facilities, as well as from portions of existing communities at or near the point of waste generation” (Hamilton, et al, 2004,p. 3; Crites and Tchobanoglous, 1998, p. 2). The draft statewide ordinance refers to “Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS)” (p. 1). The ordinance does not refer to “Community Onsite Systems.” Obviously, the proposed language changes must be clearer about what they cover.
As noted in Attachment #1, the proposals also have open-ended language throughout. Of course, vague, confusing, and open ended language invites inconsistent and arbitrary interpretations and application, which, in turn, causes conflicts, litigation, additional staff time, and large costs for everyone involved. Note how many times language leaves unanswered questions, all to be decided by the Executive Officer (see Attachment #1). Clearer more specific and complete language/provisions are essential if the policy is to be implemented without prohibitive costs and conflicts.
Reason #3—Not Consistent with other standards and ordinances
Chapter 5 (Subsection III.F. page 5) begins by stating “The Regional Board intends to discourage high density development on septic tank disposal systems and generally will require increased size of parcels with increasing slopes and slower percolation rates.” It then states, “Unsewered areas having high density (one acre lots or smaller) should be organized into septic tank management districts and sewerage feasibility studies should be complete in potential problem areas. Local implementation should be encouraged by Regional Board actions.” This prescriptive (yet vague) language strongly suggests that the Regional Board will encourage “sewerage” (i.e., centralized systems) in areas with parcels under one acre. This runs contrary to current expert opinion, since onsite systems (and decentralized systems) are considered viable options (and often the preferred option) for some urban settings and homes with small lot sizes. USEPA states, “With proper management oversight, alternative systems (e.g., recirculating sand filters, peat-based systems, package aeration units) can be installed in areas where soils, bedrock, fluctuating ground water levels, or lot sizes limit the use of conventional systems,” and it adds, “The most arbitrary siting requirement, however, is the minimum lot size restriction incorporated into many state and local codes. Lot size limits prohibit onsite treatment system installations on nonconforming lots without regard to the performance capabilities of the proposed system” (USEPA, 2008).
The proposed changes are also inconsistent with other related standards and ordinances. For example, the draft version of the AB 885 ordinance uses a different set of terms and definitions. It also requires homeowners to have “a service provider inspect” the septic tank every five years to determine if pumping is needed, and it requires owners to correct malfunctioning systems “within 90 days”—whereas, the proposed language calls for mandatory pumping every five years, and system repairs for alternative systems within 48 hours (Chapter 4, VIII.D., p. 5 & 11; SWRCB, 2007) (also see Attachment #4). Similarly, the 885 draft ordinance, does not prohibit “onsite discharge…in any area where continued use of onsite systems constitutes a public health hazard, an existing or threatened condition of water pollution, or nuisance” Chapter 4, VIII.D., p. 8, Item 20). Instead, it requires that onsite systems located near impaired water bodies provide supplemental treatment at levels necessary to protect the resource (SWRCB, 2007, page 16) (also see Attachment #4). Overall, the draft AB 885ordinance recognizes that advanced onsite systems can treat wastewater to levels equal to centralized systems, if they are well-managed. Therefore, it uses a combination of performance-based and prescriptive standards.
A sample ordinance prepared by experts at Chico State includes procedures to promote the safe use of innovative systems, while EPA Onsite Guidelines provide for five levels of onsite management, depending upon specific conditions (California Wastewater Training and Research Center, Appendix K; USEPA, 2003) (also see Attachment #3). The 1998 Crites and Tchobanoglous textbook offers guidelines for effective management plans, as do several other resources (e.g., Nelson, 1998). Your Board should review these ordinances, industry standards, and related expert input—with serious consideration given to delaying implementation until a statewide, standardized policy per AB 885 can be developed. Such ordinance is sure to address the concerns mentioned here.
Reason #4—Not Consistent with Basin Plan Goals, Porter-Cologne Act, Water Code, and other laws
Basin Plan goals emphasize the consideration of recycling in Basin Planning, as does the Porter-Cologne Act and the Water Code (Porter-Cologne Act § 13510 et seq and Water Code § 13520 et seq.) (see Attachment #5 for Basin Plan goals). Proposed changes, unfortunately, remove the only reference to “reuse” on page 5. (Chapter 4, VIII.D (p. 5). Onsite recycling and discharge of treated water close to where it is used is one of the most cost-and energy-effective ways to save water and to recharge local aquifers Centralized systems often transport the water out of a basin requiring energy-intensive pumping systems to transport it back to less-effective central recharge locations (Asano, et al, 2006; California Wastewater Training & Research Center, 2003, Pinkham, et al, 2004; Nelson, 1998). Modern onsite systems can treat water to tertiary standards, very close to the levels of centralized systems, while natural percolation provides free additional tertiary treatment (Asano, et al, 2006; California Wastewater Training & Research Center, 2003; Pinkham, et al, 2004). Therefore, onsite and decentralized systems can potentially clean up degraded basins faster than centralized solutions by replacing degraded aquifer water more effectively than centralized recharge systems. Thus, Basin Plan goals may be achieved more rapidly with onsite/decentralized systems than with centralized options.
Also, the Basin Plan and Porter-Cologne Act require economic considerations in Basin Planning. Unfortunately, one of the only references to costs (i.e., “cost effectiveness analysis…to select the recommended plan”) was removed by the proposed changes (Porter-Cologne Act § 13515 and §13527;
Chapter 4, VIII.D, p. 6)
The California Water Plan (Water Code § 10004-10013) calls for the “orderly and coordinated control, protection, conservation, development, and utilization of the water resources of the state…” which include strategies for “water conservation and water recycling.” The Governor’s Water-Energy Subgroup of the Climate Action Team (WET-CAT) recently presented five broad strategies to reduce global warming pollution from water use in California, including water recycling, water conservation, water infrastructure efficiency, use of renewable energy, and the management of storm water in urban areas. A state law sponsored by the Planning and Conservation League, now going through the Legislative process, AB 2153, would ensure that the state adopt a “comprehensive water conservation plan” with feasible, cost-effective” targets” (Planning and Conservation League Insider, March 28, 2008) Clearly, state priorities support greater conservation and water recycling; onsite and decentralized systems can help achieve these goals.
Reasons #5—Reduced wastewater project funding opportunities
The Porter-Cologne Act and California Water Code give priority consideration to projects that emphasize the recycling of water. The SWRCB also has grant funding sources for low-impact and for onsite projects. Because proposed language changes would discourage use of on-site and decentralized projects, they would reduce opportunities for these grants.
Reason #6—EIR is not adequate
The proposed changes also are sure to cause significant environmental impacts due to their tendency to reduce the use of onsite systems and onsite recharge provided by the systems. Note that the SWRCB determined an EIR was required for the AB 885 statewide ordinance (see AB 885 Initial Study, SWRCB website).
Reason #7—Lack of support from the CCWQCB Staff precludes effective onsite regulation
The Executive Officer and Staff have not supported innovated onsite systems, STEP/STEG systems, or onsite management plans in the past. The proposed changes would give ultimate authority to the Regional Board Executive Officer (and by implication the Regional Board Staff) to decide when, if, and how on-site, decentralized, and STEP-STEG systems and management plans would be approved and designed. (see Attachment #1). With Los Osos as the most obvious case, CCWQCB staff has shown an unwillingness to negotiate or oversee effective onsite management plans, and/or consider alternative onsite systems. The Executive Officer issued a letter refusing to approve use of the Reclamator, apparently under any circumstances, i.e., even if it meets specific water quality standards. The letter also appears to preclude use of all onsite systems in Los Osos, and to prohibit all onsite water recycling, by stating that all onsite discharges in Los Osos are prohibited (see Attachment # 6). This application of regulation provides a good indication of how the Executive Officer will interpret and apply proposed changes. Of course, precluding all onsite system use and discharge in a “prohibition zone” severely limits available options for conservation and aquifer recharge in those areas.
Additionally, the Executive Officer has generally advocated and been willing to approve just one wastewater option for Los Osos, a centralized conventional gravity system. He argued against a STEP/STEG system in his input for the 2001 Project EIR, contradicting the project consultant and important authorities (e.g., Crites and Tchobanoglous) by stating that STEP/STEG systems had greater I/I than conventional gravity systems (see Attachment #7). In his response to the Los Osos Wastewater Project (LOWWP) Rough Screening Report, he contradicted Carollo Engineers and the NWRI Review Panel, questioning whether STEP/STEG systems weren’t fatally flawed. On the other hand, he has never questioned whether a conventional gravity system is right for Los Osos, despite its known problems associated with greater amounts of inflow and infiltration (I/I) (leaks of water into the system) and exfiltration (leaks of raw sewage out of the system), especially as the system gets older. The LOWWP Fine Screening Report estimates wet weather flow (the design criteria for the project) will be 200,000 gallons per day (gpd) more than a STEP/STEG system’s average wet weather flow, due to I/I (Carollo Engineers, 2007, 1-11) (also see Attachment #10). The LOWWP Load and Flow Technical Memorandum estimates peak wet weather flows for a conventional gravity system will go as high as 2.5 million gallons or 180% of average wet weather flows (almost a million gallons per day more than STEP/STEG systems) (Carollo Engineers, 2008, p,10) (also see Attachment #10). Authorities, including the EPA and SWRCB, recognize I/I as a main cause of sewer overflows (SSOs)—and SSOs as a main cause of beach closures and surface water pollution (Asano, et al, 2006; Pinkham, et al, 2004; Nelson, 1998; USEPA, 2000).
The SWRCB’s Statewide General WDR for Sanitary Sewer Systems (Order No. 2006-0003-DWQ) requires sewer system management plans (SSMPs) be developed for every public system with collections systems over one mile in length to reduce SSOs (see Attachment # 9). This document, plus USEPA documents (e.g., USEPA, 2004; see Attachment #8), points out the serious public health hazard SSOs cause. Leading authoritiees, (e.g., Asano et al., 2006) indicate that conventional gravity systems result in more exfiltration than cluster and STEP/STEG systems, while the EPA points out that exfiltration is believed to be a main cause of ground water and surface water pollution throughout the U.S. (USEPA, 2000). The 2000 USEPA study concludes that pipes “above, but in close proximity to the ground water” are most susceptible (USEPA, 2000. p. 25)—a condition that likely describes many areas within the Central Coast Region. These facts, and the above WDR, suggests why the CCWQCB and its staff should be at least as concerned about discharges from centralized gravity systems as discharges from onsite and decentralized systems. The WDR, in fact, raises the question of whether conventional gravity systems should even be considered for sensitive and impaired groundwater areas—since they are proven to leak significantly more than sealed systems (i.e., STEP/STEG, low pressure, or vacuum) and cause harmful releases of raw sewage into the environment.
Finally, high levels of I/I entering conventional gravity systems reduce natural ground water recharge by siphoning off rain water that would otherwise percolate to ground water (Asano, et al, 2006; Pinkham, et al, 2004; Nelson, 1998).
Summary of why the proposed changes work against sustainable development
The net effect of the proposed changes will be to discourage onsite and decentralized systems, onsite recycling, and possibly STEP/STEG systems, pushing the Region toward large-scale, energy- and cost-intensive water/wastewater options, such as centralized gravity collection systems and water-import pipelines—despite growing evidence these options are unsustainable.
Global warming is likely to reduce the availability of state water in the future, and many communities in California are now facing extremely costly upgrades of their conventional gravity sewers to stop the pollution of local ecosystems and water supplies resulting from system failures and overflows. Experts agree that onsite and STEP/STEG systems can significantly reduce the costs, energy use, and environmental damage of wastewater treatment and disposal.
At a time when it is incumbent upon your Board to find ways to encourage sustainable solutions, I ask that you don’t take the Region in the other direction.
The proposed Basin Plan changes—and the Basin Plan in general—reflect water policies and priorities that seem to be out-of-date. They narrowly focused on federal zero discharge goals, without adequate consideration of water scarcity, resource-effectiveness, or the social and economic impacts of high-dollar water/wastewater projects, no longer funded with federal dollars. Too narrow a focus on discharge goals, in fact, can lead to greater water scarcity and dependence on threatened state water by focusing too much on expensive centralized treatment and not enough on replenishment of the Region’s aquifers.
The CCWQCB can lead this Region into a 21st Century with ample, clean water for the people and businesses of the Region, but it will take forward-thinking plans and goals, which emphasize long-term, whole-systems thinking and a sustainable development approach. State-of-the-art, fair-minded standards and policies will inspire cooperation among residents and agencies, allowing Regional Board to achieve and exceed its goals.
Asano, Takshi, et al. Water Reuse: Issues, Technologies, and Applications. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006
California Wastewater Training and Research Center. Status Report: Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems in California. California State University, Chico. June 2003 http://csuchico.edu/cwtrc/PDFFILES/updates/statusreportdraft.pdf
——— National Decentralized Water Resources Capacity Development Project: Onsite Sewage Treatment in California and the Progression Toward Statewide Standards. California State University, Chico. June 2004 http://www.ndwrcdp.org/userfiles/ACFoc1vrb.pdf
Carollo Engineers. Viable Project Alternatives: Fine Screening Analysis. San Luis Obispo County Wastewater Project. August 2007.
______ Technical Memorandum: Flow and Loads. San Luis Obispo County Wastewater Project. February 2008.
Crites, R., G. Tchobanoglous. Small and Decentralized Wastewater Management Systems. Boston: Mc Graw Hill, 1998.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Voluntary National Guidelines for Management of Onsite and clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems. EPA 832-B-03-001. Office of Research and Development. March 2003.
———Report to Congress on Impacts and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows: Fact Sheet. August 2004 http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/csosso_rtc_factsheet.pdf
——— Background and Use of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems. EPA 600/R-00/008. April 2008 http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/pubs/625r00008/html/600R00008chapt1.htm
———Amick, Robert S.,P.E. and Edward H. Burgess. Exfiltration in Sewer Systems. EPA 600/R01/034. December 2000.
National Water Research Institute (NWRI). Final Report of the Independent Advisory Panel on Reviewing the Los Osos Wastewater management Plan Update. 4 December 2006
Nelson, Valerie I. Accountability: Issues of compliance with Decentralized Wastewater Management Goals. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management. August 1998. http://www.mass.gov/dep/water/wastewater/account.pdf
PCL Insider: News from the Capitol. The Planning and Conservation League. March 2008
Pinkham, et al., Valuing Decentralized Wastewater Technologies: A Catalog of Benefits, Costs, and Economic Analysis Techniques. Snowmass: Rocky Mountain Institute for the USEPA, 2004 http://www.rmi.org/images/other/Water/w04-21_ValuWstWtr.pdf
California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). Chapter 7 “Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) (Draft of a statewide AB 885 ordinance). March 13, 2007. http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/ab885