State agency presses ahead with septic rules proposal


The state water board will make some changes and a few compromises, but will press ahead with new stringent water quality rules affecting septic systems. In other water news, Tapia may have to find another outlet for its treated water.

By Hans Laetz / Special to The Malibu Times

Despite some opposition, a state agency will press ahead with its proposal to require supplemental sewage treatment systems to replace septic tanks within 600 feet of impaired waterways, such as Malibu Creek and Santa Monica Bay, a wastewater advisory board has been told. A report was made at a Tuesday meeting of agencies that regulate water quality in the north Santa Monica Bay.

The decision by the State Water Resources Control Board staff comes after a series of public hearings, including one in Malibu, this summer. Some homeowners had testified against the new supplemental treatment systems, which start at about $10,000 per home and can cost substantially more than that, and also require more maintenance and oversight than traditional septic systems.

The state water board will draft regulations this fall for formal public review. Once the policy is adopted, most likely in June, septic tank owners throughout California will be faced with a multiyear deadline to rebuild their existing onsite wastewater systems, officials said.

Local building officials have expected the more stringent regulations. The City of Malibu has already begun enforcing new, tighter septic regulations.

At the very least, local governments in California may start requiring homeowners to survey their existing septic tanks and show that they are still functioning. The inspection alone could be a costly requirement for older houses.

Nearly every Malibu residential septic system will have to be inspected, and upgraded if necessary, over the next seven years, city officials have said, as one of the largest California coastal cities without a centralized sewage collection and treatment system acts to protect its coastal waters.

Septic permits might also be required when single-family homes are sold or remodeled, depending on how state regulations are implemented, a city official said.

At issue are new state water laws, which will no longer rely on building codes to specify what types of septic systems are acceptable and how they will be built. New regulations, as a result of the law passed in 2000 called AB 885, will soon set specific performance standards for water that, by design, seeps out of onsite disposal systems.

A second regulatory agency, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, is also about to implement rules cracking down on the amount of nitrogen and bacteria that can be carried in the liquid discharge emitted by all onsite sewage systems.

And that means Malibu homeowners could have to replace septic systems with higher-tech disposal systems that will have to be tested and adjusted regularly.

In a related matter, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Board will decide Thursday on a proposal to prohibit the Tapia Wastewater Treatment Plant from dumping much of its treated water into Malibu Creek.

The water board wants Tapia to ship its water, which is treated to near drinking water standards, to the Los Angeles River during months when Malibu Creek traditionally has flows.

Tapia treats sewage from Agoura Hills, Calabasas and nearby areas. It discharges highly treated sewage effluent into Malibu Creek about five miles upstream from Malibu Lagoon.

Ocean advocates hope sending less clean water from Tapia into the Malibu Lagoon, where it sits and picks up organic contaminants, will lessen the amount of polluted water flowing into the ocean at Surfrider Beach. The Malibu chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has criticized upstream agencies for fighting the pollution-control measure.

The proposal would be costly, as Tapia’s ratepayers would have to pay for a new pipeline to the San Fernando Valley. Critics also say advocates for the Los Angeles River may fight the proposal to add water-even perfectly clean water-into it.

The water board’s public hearing and vote will take place this Thursday at 11 a.m. at Agoura Hills City Hall, 30001 Ladyface Court, Agoura Hills.