A fight is brewing against an onsite sewage treatment bill that was recently passed, with an 8-2 vote, by the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.
The bill, AB885, would shift regulatory control of onsite sewage treatment systems from cities and counties to state and regional water quality control boards.
The impact on Malibu is the loss of local control over the regulation of septic systems to the state and giving more power to regional boards regarding regulation. Cost is another concern of Malibu if owners are required to fix or replace entire septic systems.
However, provided in the bill is the ability of the Legislature to encourage the state board to make loans to residents who spend more than .5 percent of their property’s assessed value complying with new regulations.
Local agencies would also be reimbursed for costs if these costs are a direct result of mandates by the state.
The purpose of the bill, according to its author Assemblymember Hanna-Beth Jackson, is, “By establishing statewide performance standards for septic systems, AB885 will ensure these sources do not continue to contribute to the chronic beach closure problem nor degradation of other state waters.”
The California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) is the largest known group opposing the bill and has recently sent out e-mails to local Realtors in Malibu to garner help in the fight against the bill.
“Septic systems ought not to be the business of the state and regional boards,” said Eileen Reynolds, a legislative advocate for C.A.R.
C.A.R believes the State Water Quality Control Board (SWQCB) and the Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB) are “overwhelmed with their responsibility to regulate big picture nonpoint source issues, without having to focus on [individual systems].”
A statewide survey should be done on sewage treatment systems, said Reynolds.
“We think that ought to be done ahead of regulation,” she said. “We’d like to see a survey done and funded . . . how huge of a problem is there, if there is a problem, statewide.”
“The author is assuming there is a problem statewide,” said Reynolds.
Jackson noted that “siting and construction standards by themselves have failed to protect the beneficial uses of our waters. In some cases it is because the systems are extremely old, out-dated or in disrepair. In others, changed land use, with larger families or denser development, have overloaded the design capacity of the septic systems or the soil into which they empty.”
However, Reynolds said that C.A.R. does not believe there is a one size fits all solution to regulation of septic systems.
“Coastal areas in Southern California are way different than coastal areas in Northern California,” she said. Soils are different, the weather and topography are different.”
Another fear of C.A.R’s is that statewide septic system regulation would affect local land-use decisions.
If the bill becomes law, along with California RWQCBs and the (SWRCB), the State Department of Health Services, the California Coastal Commission, the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health and other entities would be consulted in the regulation of the permitting and operation of onsite sewage treatment systems
An aspect of the bill that did appeal to C.A.R. was that all private contractors, pumpers and inspectors of onsite sewage treatment systems would be required to register with the SWRCB.
“They did throw us that bone,” said Reynolds.
However, Reynolds said, “They decided to take it out because it didn’t appease us.”
Malibu city personnel did not return phone calls to The Malibu Times concerning the bill. However, in the comments portion of the bill analysis, Malibu is quoted as asserting “local agencies should deal with sewage treatment systems.”
Malibu Township Council, Inc., was also listed as those opposing the bill. Those in support of AB885 are: the California Association of Environmental Health, Administrators, Center for Marine Conservation Planning and Conservation League, Sierra Club and a group called Surfers Tired of Pollution.
Funding in the amount of $300,000 is provided in the budget for the SWRCB to develop the requirements contained in AB885.
- The State Water Quality Control Board would adopt regulations for permitting and operating sewage treatment systems constructed on or after January 1, 2004 and systems that would cause pollution, nuisance, or contamination. Noted in the comments section of the bill analysis is that AB885 applies to systems that are constructed on or after January 1, 2004, but “clarification is needed to ensure that replace or repaired systems are addressed.”
- Minimum operating standards, maximum contaminant levels, delegation of authority to qualified local agencies, corrective action taken if the systems fail to meet set standards and guidelines for conducting onsite sewage sanitary surveys would be included in the regulations.
- Local agencies would be required to conduct a sanitary survey of onsite sewage treatment systems within jurisdictional coastal zones. However, the bill would not preempt local authorities from adopting standards for onsite systems that are more stringent than the SWQCB regulations.
- Loans would be made to property owners who incur costs that exceed .5 percent of their property’s currently assessed value by complying with newly set standards.