Proposed Septic Rules Facing Less Opposition

Revised septic tank regulations may be facing less outright opposition from rural landowners and property rights activists, whose protests two years ago sent a previous proposal back to the drawing board.

The state Water Resources Control Board is set to take public comment on the revised rules Wednesday in a meeting at the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa.

Initial public feedback and light turnout at two hearings last week on the issue in other parts of the state suggest that critics may be less alarmed by the new proposal.

That's in stark contrast to the response in 2009, when critics packed hearings and helped beat back rules they saw as heavy-handed.

The scrapped rules would have affected nearly all 45,000 septic tank owners in Sonoma County, requiring regular system tests and retrofits of up to $45,000 for a wide range of residential properties.

The new proposal would more narrowly focus the strongest regulations on landowners with systems that are failing or are near polluted waterways, lakes, bays or ponds.

They still could be on the hook for mandated testing and upgrades costing tens of thousands of dollars. Those requirements remain a concern of critics.

But overall, the new proposal “is not causing the level of heartburn that it did last time,” said Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

“The rewrite has greatly improved the regulation,” he said, adding, “There are still a lot of details that we think need to be worked out.”

Other interest groups involved in the previous standoff echoed those comments.

“We have some concerns that we'd like to have addressed, but overall we're happy with the direction of the policy,” said Ezrah Chaaban, governmental affairs director for the North Bay Association of Realtors.

Of greatest concern, critics said, are the tighter rules for landowners near streams and other water bodies with excessive bacteria and nitrate levels.

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