Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Coast water quality officials are seeking public input on efforts to reduce contamination of the Russian River watershed through a plan that’s likely to have broad impacts on rural residents dependent on septic systems for waste disposal.
Studies indicate the river and its tributary creeks are polluted with bacteria from human and animal feces traced to a variety of sources — from dairies to homeless encampments, wastewater treatment facilities to beachgoers using bushes for toilets, according to staff from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
But longtime concerns about older, on-site septic systems that may be permitting untreated waste to reach local waterways means remediation strategies will doubtless have implications for rural homeowners with septic systems, especially in lower Russian River communities like Monte Rio and Camp Meeker, said board Executive Officer Matt St. John.
“We’re still evaluating what improvements are needed, but I think what we can say at this point is that (in) areas with a high density of on-site septic systems, we’re seeing significant contribution of fecal indicator bacteria,” St. John said.
Stretches of the Russian River in Healdsburg and from Guerneville to Monte Rio, as well as Santa Rosa, Atascadero, Dutch Bill creeks and an unnamed tributary near Healdsburg’s Fitch Mountain, are all listed as impaired waters under the federal Clean Water Act, and have been since 2002, because of high levels of bacterial concentration indicative of fecal contamination, the water quality board said.