Septic Systems

County Seeks Community Input on Septic System Policy Updates

Plenty of information was shared at the septic meeting at the Villa on October 10th. Definitive answers were little harder to come by. Tennis Wick and Nathan Quarles from PRMD presented the updates to the county's OWTS Manual. (Onsite Wastewater Treatment System) Nathan & Tennis reiterated that unless you are requesting a building permit or there is a complaint of stinkiness, the county does not have the jurisdiction to come on your property or require you to do anything to your septic system. The changes to the county OWTS manual are scheduled to go to the Board of Supervisors at their November 13 meeting.

So, it was a good thing Charles Reed from the regional water board came to the meeting, because the water board DOES have the authority to compel you to upgrade your septic if it does not meet their standards. These standards, which must conform to and be approved by the state water board, are also changing but on a slower schedule. The crux of the matter for Fitch Mountain is that nearly all of us are in the water board's Advanced Protection Management Program, (APMP). In a nutshell our waste water will be held to the higher sanitary standards of the APMP due to the main stem of the Russian River being on the federal list of impaired waterways AND due to our proximity (the famous 600') to the river or a tributary. The main thrust of the APMP on Fitch Mountain is that it outlaws cesspools. While Tennis & Nathan from PRMD were quick to say they aren't going out looking for cesspools, the water board is. So, piecing together the presentations and the answers to peoples' questions, the best guess is that, sometime next summer, the water board will begin sending out letters requiring septic owners to describe what type of system they have and what condition it is in. No details were given about whether these responses would have to be certified in some way. Charles stated that they have thousands of septic systems within the APMP, (which covers areas throughout the RR watershed,) so they will need to prioritize where and when these letters go out. This will span years, not months. Once determination has been made that someone needs to upgrade their septic system, they will have grace period(s) to give time to design systems for difficult properties and get them installed. Then there are financial hardship considerations, which could add more time while funding options are explored.

Bottom line: we might get letters as early as next summer and then have as little as 5 years to comply...or...we might not get the letters for a couple years and the process could be open to 10 or more years depending on where you live and what your unique situation is. We just have to wait and see.

In any event, here is a link to the APMP map Charles talked about in the meeting:

NOTE: it is quirky to use. I was able to find my parcel by address. your entry is keyed to a database of confirmed addresses. Once I selected my address, it took me to my section of the map BUT it indicated that I was NOT in the APMP. (I'm 100' from the river). I had to click on the box corresponding to my house to get the correct answer. I never succeeded in getting the map to accept my AP#. You may have different luck. There are only a handful of houses on Fitch Mountain that are NOT in the APMP.

There is an option to give feedback and/or ask questions on the PRMD website:

Lastly, if you want to just throw caution to the wind, you can send an email to Pat Abercrombie, FMA President and default chair of the FMA Septicians Committee at patabercrombie@comcast.net and he will locate a crystal ball and look into it for you.

A. Background: Reduction of Pathogens in the Russian River Watershed… and Fitch Mountain

Updated June 2018

In 2000, the State of California approved Assembly Bill 885, which among other provisions, mandated the cleanup of “impaired waterways,” rivers and streams whose pollution posed a threat to the health of those using them for recreational purposes (not for drinking water). As a means to this goal, it adopted a statewide policy regarding TMDLs, or the Total Maximum Daily Load of specified pollutants that would be allowed in conforming waterways before they would be considered impaired. As one means of reducing impairment, it mandated the establishment of standards for OWTS, On-site Wastewater Treatment Systems (septic tanks, cesspools, etc.), that are contributing to the pollution.

The entire watershed of the Russian River is considered an “impaired watercourse,” and the NCWQCB (North Coast Water Quality Control Board) has been working towards the mandated goal of protecting water quality, and where there is pollution, of getting it cleaned up so we can continue to enjoy our beloved river.

Per an MOU from December 2016, the NCWQCB would issue and approve its own TMDL for the Russian River Basin; they planned/hoped to do this by December 2017. They would then work closely with Sonoma County’s PRMD to work out specific OWTS regulations that will reduce pathogen effluence into the river and thus reduce impairment. But, the completion of the NCWQCB work has been postponed indefinitely due to focusing on the potential impacts of the wildfires. (More on that, below.)

The Fitch Mountain Association, though its Wastewater Systems Committee (aka The Septicians), has been observing and participating this process since October 2012, and is a founding member of the OWTS-RRR group (The OWTS Residents of the Russian River. A committee representing the legacy non-sewer-served riverfront communities of the lower Russian River).

The materials below, both current and past, should inform you about this process that is so important to our Fitch Mountain community. If you have any questions, please contact The Septicians Temporary Chair, Dave Henderson at davehen@sonic.net

Septicians Committee members are Dave Henderson, Al Pucci, Don Dana, Rick Kolb, Michael Swicegood, & Mark Jensen. They are meeting regularly with the Water Board, the County PRD, and Supervisor Gore to ensure that

  1. Our FM community are kept up-to-date on the process,
  2. FM is being clearly heard as a stakeholder, and
  3. the financial situation, the prevalence of seasonal usage, and “challenging topography of the lots” of many of our property-owners receive the fair attention they deserve.

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What all those acronyms mean

  • MOU: Memo Of Understanding
  • NCWQCB: North Coast Water Quality Control Board, one of the regional agencies of the State Water Quality Control Board.
  • OWTS: On-site wastewater treatment systems --what you’ve got in your backyard, whether it’s a septic-tank system, cesspool, etc.
  • OWTS-RRR: The OWTS Residents of the Russian River. A committee representing the legacy non-sewer-served riverfront communities of the lower Russian River.
  • PRMD: Permit and Resource Management Department
  • TMDLs, or the Total Maximum Daily Load of specified pollutants that would be allowed in conforming waterways before they would be considered impaired.

B. Current Developments: Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS or aka: Septic) Situation
UPDATED TO NOVEMBER 13, 2018

If you have questions, contact Pat Abercrombie, FMA President, at patabercrombie@comcast.net.

Here is information from this Spring: