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In bid to clean Russian River, water regulators adopt strict plan for Sonoma County septic systems

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast water quality regulators have signed off on a sweeping new plan that aims to curb the threat of human waste entering the Russian River by phasing out failing and substandard septic systems, viewed for decades as a prime source of pollution in the sprawling watershed.

Years in the making, the regulations affect a vast swath of Sonoma County — properties without sewer service from Cloverdale to Cotati and from Santa Rosa to Jenner. For the first time, affected landowners will be subject to compulsory inspections and mandatory repair or replacement of septic systems found to be faulty or outdated, at an estimated cost of up to $114 million, according to county officials.

The new rules take effect next year and will apply to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 parcels without sewer service. Once the rules kick in, landowners will have 15 years to comply.

he highest concentration of affected property owners exist in the river’s lower reaches, where contamination from fecal bacteria has long been an open issue, but where officials worry that poorer communities will face the heaviest burden complying with the measures. Upgrades to an individual septic system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and no pot of money currently exists to help defray landowner costs.

Local representatives, while not standing in the way of the measures, said outside financial support for the overhaul will be needed. North Coast water quality officials pledged to work with Sonoma County to pursue state, federal and private funding to bolster the cleanup effort.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9903962-181/in-bid-to-clean-russian

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New plan to safeguard Russian River targets contamination from human and animal waste

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An on-again, off-again effort by state regulators to better protect the Russian River and its tributaries against failing septic systems, livestock waste and other potential sources of bacterial contamination is in its final stages, with hopes that an action plan for the entire watershed will be approved this August and go into effect next year.

The move, controversial and closely watched in years past, could impose stricter regulations and mandatory septic system upgrades on thousands of landowners with properties near the river or its connected waterways.

Opportunities still exist for residents to weigh in on the complicated, far-reaching strategy designed to safeguard the region’s recreational hub and main source of drinking water, with bacterial threats ranging from everyday pet waste to rain-swollen sewage holding ponds and homeless encampments.

Now in its third iteration since 2015, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s new draft action plan is out for public review and comment through 5 p.m. June 24.

The board’s staff will host a public workshop at its Santa Rosa offices on Thursday afternoon, and a public hearing will be held during the board’s regular meeting Aug. 14 and 15, when it considers adopting the plan.

The water quality control program is required under the federal Clean Water Act as well as state regulations designed to ensure that people swimming, wading, fishing or otherwise recreating in the river and tributary creeks aren’t exposed to bacteria from human or animal waste — a problem in waterways around California, state officials say.

Key concerns include aging, under-equipped and potentially faulty septic systems and cesspools installed decades ago on steep slopes with too little soil to provide adequate percolation. Testing also shows livestock grazing in close proximity to waterways is a problem in many areas.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9693049-181/new-plan-to-safeguard-russian

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Sonoma County to seek half-year extension on controversial septic system changes

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County officials will ask state regulators for more time to craft new rules governing the estimated 45,000-plus septic systems in the county’s unincorporated areas after facing resistance from rural residents who feared the changes could force them to undertake costly and unnecessary upgrades.

The Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday to seek a six-month extension so county leaders can gather more community input and address concerns raised by homeowners, many of them from along the Russian River and on Fitch Mountain outside Healdsburg.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins embraced the idea of an extension, expressing sympathy toward some of the criticisms raised by residents in her west county district. Hopkins advocated for more flexibility in the standards, which as proposed could require more expensive evaluations of replacement septic projects, among other changes intended to prevent wastewater systems from contaminating local watersheds.

Read more at: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8353308-181/sonoma-county-to-seek-half-year

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Contaminated water found in Rohnert Park subdivision 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Blaise Turek looked forward to taking a hot shower after he and his wife returned home from vacation in mid-December. But when he turned the faucet on, brownish water with a putrid stench flowed out.
“The smell was off the charts,” he said.
Almost a month later, the Tureks and more than a dozen other property owners in the Canon Manor West neighborhood just east of Rohnert Park are still dealing with fallout from contamination in their water wells.
County health officials this week revealed that 17 of 31 residential wells tested in the development south of Sonoma State University are ridden with potentially harmful bacteria, including E. coli in seven of the contaminated water sources. Besides ordering residents to discontinue using the wells, officials will be sending letters to every property owner in the 257-acre development warning them of the problem and urging precautions.
“I think it’s an urgency,” said Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy health officer. “People should be aware that they are potentially drinking water that’s not safe.”
More than a public health concern, the well contamination in Canon Manor West highlights longstanding disputes in several Sonoma County neighborhoods over water rights and responsibility for ensuring that the water is safe.
Holbrook on Wednesday said the consensus among county officials and those from the city of Rohnert Park — which maintains a sewer line in Canon Manor West — is that failing septic systems and surface water contamination are to blame for the well problems.
Several residents, however, accuse the county of using the current crisis as an excuse to enforce an ordinance requiring Canon Manor West residents to hook up to public water and sewer lines, abandon and destroy septic systems and to discontinue well use for domestic purposes.
Read more at: Contaminated water found in Rohnert Park subdivision | The Press Democrat

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E. coli contamination in wells near Rohnert Park prompts alert

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County officials fanned out in the Canon Manor neighborhood east of Rohnert Park this week warning dozens of residents that water drawn from private wells may be contaminated with E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria.
Two wells outside homes in the neighborhood near Sonoma State University already have tested positive for what county officials called “extremely high” levels of the two strains of bacteria. The county ordered the property owners to discontinue using the wells, which are in the 1700 block of Lynn Drive. The owners have subsequently hooked up to a system operated by the Penngrove/Kenwood Water Co.
County health officials stressed that there have been no reports of anyone being sickened from drinking or using water from contaminated wells in Canon Manor. Symptoms of E. coli infection include abdominal distress and headaches. It’s unknown whether the contamination also includes potentially deadly strains of the bacteria as the county’s lab tests are not that specific, according to Karen Holbrook, the county’s deputy health officer.
“We’re acting out of an abundance of caution,” she said.
The county first received a complaint about sewage odors emanating from a well Dec. 18 from a property owner on Lynn Drive. Tests of wells on two adjacent properties revealed the presence of more than 2,419 colonies of E. coli and fecal coliform in a 100-milliliter sampling of water. There are no safe levels for either bacteria.
Read more at: E. coli contamination in wells near Rohnert Park | The Press Democrat

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State plans tighter oversight to stem Russian River pollution

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Public workshop dates
A newly developed plan designed to improve water quality in the Russian River and address fecal bacterial contamination throughout the watershed will have profound ramifications for many North Coast residents, as state regulators target faulty sewage systems and other means through which human and animal waste may be entering waterways.
The state move, outlined in a draft action plan released by regulators last month, highlights the critical role the river plays as a water supply to more than 600,000 North Bay residents and as a popular recreational destination, offering swimming, boating and fishing opportunities.
It also shows the contamination problems facing the river are complex and multifaceted, affected by everything from failing municipal sewer lines, sewage holding ponds and residential septic tanks to homeless encampments, grazing cattle and dirty diapers left on river beaches.
Communities throughout the 1,484-square-mile watershed and thousands of residents dependent on septic tanks will be affected to varying degrees by the state step, if only because they must demonstrate their systems are operating correctly.
The plan has implications particularly for those in defined “high priority areas” — neighborhoods where bacterial levels have most often exceeded acceptable levels and where onsite waste disposal systems, like septic tanks, are densely located, in close proximity to the river and its feeder streams.
Read more at: State plans tighter oversight to stem Russian River | The Press Democrat

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New septic regulations on the way for Sonoma County

Brenda Adelman, THE SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
The North Coast Regional Water Board is gearing up to develop new septic regulations to satisfy requirements of AB 885, a controversial regulation in the making for over ten years and finally approved a few years ago. AB 885’s intent is to clean up waterways allegedly polluted by failing septics, and its implementation in our area relies on their assessment of bacterial problems in the lower Russian River, a process to be completed within two years.
The Russian River Watershed Protection Committee supports requirements that provide assurance of environmental protections that address health concerns and beneficial uses, yet appropriately distributes responsibility for identified problems. Much of the human caused degradation in the lower river occurs upstream of Forestville, including the Laguna, and all should be clearly identified and addressed.
Besides septics, Regional Board staff has identified many other sources of bacterial contamination. The nature and scope of the problem must be scientifically analyzed and all contributing sources must be adequately quantified. To the extent that septics are culpable for polluting river and streams, it is extraordinarily important that governmental agencies assist our community of modest incomes to arrange funding and administrative oversight to fix the problems and the public must be fully engaged in the process at all stages.
We live in an extraordinarily fragile environment that includes a major flood plain, steep slopes with high landslide potential, huge heritage trees, soils with high ground water and liquefaction potential, and more. Conventional sewers are inappropriate in this environment and are far more expensive to construct than in flat plains.
Read more via New sewer regulations on the way for Sonoma County.

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Water Board developing a plan to clean up disease-causing bacteria in the Russian River

Rebecca Fitzgerald & Charles Reed, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Each year, the Russian River plays host to tens of thousands of residents and visitors who swim and recreate along its length, which extends from Redwood Valley, North of Ukiah to Jenner, where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean.
At the same time, the Russian River area is home to hundreds of thousands of human inhabitants and domesticated animals, who produce waste. Most of this domestic waste is collected, treated, beneficially reused, or discharged at a time and in a manner that is protective of public health and water quality. Much of this domestic waste is also controlled at its source by individuals through responsible personal behavior and good sanitary practices.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Water monitoring samples from the river show widespread contamination with bacteria and indicators of human waste, which pose a threat to the health of the river ecosystem and the people who visit it.
Reliance on existing regulatory actions and individual behavior is sometimes not sufficient to prevent domestic waste from being released in an uncontrolled manner into the environment. Once released, this material, which may include disease-causing microorganisms, inevitably makes its way to creeks and finally to the Russian River where it adversely impacts water quality, impairs the beneficial uses of creeks and the River, and presents a public health risk to individuals who come in contact with contaminated waters.
Often, the uncontrolled sources of waste are the result of the systemic failure to address human societal challenges like homelessness. Other times, contamination is the result of legacy practices, such as obsolete, substandard wastewater treatment systems. The simple lack of public awareness about the impacts of individual actions can also affect water quality.
Regardless of the root cause of contamination, it is the obligation of public agencies responsible for the protection of water quality and public health, to take actions to correct the condition. For these actions to be truly successfully and long-lasting, there must be participation, cooperation, and commitment from supporting state and local agencies, parties to whom corrective actions are assigned, and the general public.
Read much more via Troubled Waters: Water Board Developing a Plan to Cleanup Disease-causing Bacteria in the Russian River.

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Efforts to clean up Russian River could impact rural septic systems

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.

via Efforts to clean up Russian River could impact | The Press Democrat.