California Rewriting Wastewater Rules

Earth Island News

Hydro Nova

Nearly 1.5 million California households live in areas without access to public sewers, and rely on septic systems to dispose of water used in their homes. However septic systems can and do fail, leading to health and/or environmental problems.

California is currently re-writing regulations governing on-site wastewater under the impetus of AB 885, passed by the legislature several years ago. Since California is one of just two states that now do not have effective state oversight, the review process leading to new regulations was expected to yield positive results. Unfortunately that has not been the case.

The staff of the State Water Resources Control Board, the lead agency in the review process, adopted an elaborate process for receiving “input.” They received a lot of “input” but gave short shrift to important policy issues. Unfortunately, they also adopted the main premise of the status quo; namely, households using on-site systems must be “managed” by local and state bureaucrats to prevent dire consequences.

Although not yet finalized the latest draft of the regulations heads in the direction of:

Increasing the difficulty for innovative solutions to be used for on-site wastewater treatment and making it almost impossible to use zero waste solutions (such as composting toilets and constructed wetlands);

Raising the financial burden on a selected group of on-site system users, who, ironically turn out to be least likely to cause pollution problems;

Completely neglecting the vast majority of potential pollution problems until a crisis occurs that might force people out of their homes;

Hydro Nova, devoted to consumer education and innovation in wastewater treatment, takes a very different approach. We believe it is essential to educate the public about wastewater issues. We believe it is important for the state to encourage new technology. We believe it is necessary to create the infrastructure to help households maintain on-site systems. And, above all, we believe it is critical to bring costs down and eliminate the current approach of command and control regulations, based on bureaucratic whim.

Final draft regulations are expected shortly. These will be subject to a full-scale environmental review, and to public comment this fall.

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