An Uptick in Septic Protections

May 4th, 2023

In California, there are over 1.2 million septic tanks, RVs, and other Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, commonly called OWTS. OWTS are incredibly important for sanitation in areas where people don’t have access to sewer systems, and 40% of all the OWTS within the state are in the Central Valley. However, if OWTS are poorly sited, designed, operated, or maintained, there can be serious health and environmental impacts. For example, the 2019-20 water quality report for Ventura County noted that Rincon Beach had elevated levels of pathogens in the water, and that “discharges from septic systems near the beach are the sole source of the pollution,” even though only “three OWTS near Rincon Beach are currently discharging.”

To control pollution from OWTS, the State Water Board has developed a statewide Policy which pairs local government expertise with statewide water quality concerns. This permit, initially passed in 2013, was designed to be updated every five years. This year, the Board renewed and updated the permit for the third time. California Coastkeeper Alliance, to further our goal of swimmable, fishable, and drinkable water throughout the state, participated in the renewal process to ensure the permit is as protective of clean water as possible.

One of the key areas of the statewide permit is Tier 3, which outlines heightened requirements for all OWTS near a waterbody impaired for pathogens or nutrients under the Clean Water Act. However, under a draft of the most recent permit renewal, several waterbodies were removed from Tier 3 without adequate justification. As watchdogs for statewide clean water, we brought these issues to the attention of the State Water Board and worked with the staff who designed the permit to ensure that water quality was being protected. Thanks to our engagement the final draft of the permit was released without these omissions.  

As more statewide permits come up for renewal, California Coastkeeper Alliance will work to ensure that clean water is never overlooked. Stay informed of our work and our efforts to protect California’s waters by subscribing to California Coastkeeper Alliance’s monthly newsletter, becoming a lifetime member, or following us on social media: @CA_Waterkeepers

Categories: Happening Now