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Proposed septic system inspection fee angers residents

New regulations would include $325 charge every 5 years
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County residents have been packing meeting rooms and angrily speaking out during the past month over a new State Water Resources Control Board proposal that could hit septic system users with a $325 inspection fee. On Tuesday, Placer County supervisors will be asked to consider adding their voices to a growing protest over a change in regulations that would require an estimated 26,000 septic systems to be inspected every five years. Jill Pahl, Placer’s environmental health director, has been explaining state plans throughout the county. Designed to prevent accidental septic tank discharges into waterways, the regulations are now part of a draft document due to go before the state Water Resources Control Board Feb. 9. The regulations are an attempt to implement 2000’s Assembly Bill 885. They’re moving forward without the support of Placer County septic system users like Catherine Williams of Meadow Vista. The 20-year resident of the rural community east of Auburn said she’s a senior on a fixed income who’s concerned about the inspection cost, the cost of any upgrades if the system fails state-mandated testing, and why the community even needs the legislation. “It’s my understanding that AB 885 came into existence in the 1990s after a Southern California community dumped untreated sewage into the Pacific Ocean,” Williams stated. Foresthill’s Janice Jerabek is also suggesting her community’s septic users don’t require inspections. “Start inspections with a river to see if there is a water issue,” Jerabek said. “Then, only require further septic-tank testing and monitoring at the tributaries where the pathogens are causing a quality problem.” The retired teacher said the solution is as simple as an old classroom maxim: “The first rule is not to punish an entire class when only one or two are the culprits.” Meadow Vista’s Robert Irvine said he’s been in Placer County for more than 50 years and has never had a problem with his septic system. Irvine described the inspection plan as needless and said there was not one person in a standing-room-only crowd of about 120 people at this past month’s Meadow Vista Municipal Advisory Committee meeting who wanted an inspection. Under the state proposal, the new rules would go into effect in 2010. A report commissioned by the water quality panel says inspections would take place every five years and cost about $325. The new regulations also could target well owners. Owners of an onsite domestic well could be required to have the water analyzed every five years, with a report sent electronically to the state. The cost is an estimated $325. On Tuesday, Pahl will be asking supervisors to consider providing their own comments to the state Water Resources Control Board or even speak at the Feb. 9 meeting. Pahl said the proposed regulations are poorly prepared and overstep the 2000 legislation’s intent. One of the key concerns is that they fail to sufficiently address impacts on septic system owners, as well as local public health protection agencies and the state board itself, she said. The state Water Code says that the intent of the legislation is to assist private property owners with costs by encouraging loans but it is unrealistic to believe that an adequate amount of loan funding would be available, particularly in the current state fiscal crisis, Pahl added. Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, is also seeking public input on the septic issues, as well as other wastewater challenges that communities in Placer County are facing. He’s sponsoring a town-hall meeting Thursday in Auburn that is expected to draw a large crowd. Adam Willoughby, spokesman for the assemblyman, said the forum initially was going to focus on the Auburn wastewater issue but because of mounting concerns over AB 885, the agenda was expanded. Gaines will moderate the meeting and Paul will be joined by Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson and a State Water Control Resources Control Board staff member on the panel. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com ---------- Fast Facts: Number of California households on septic systems – 1.2 million Percentage of households in California on septic sewage systems – 10 percent Placer County households on septic – 26,000 Cost for a proposed inspection – an estimated $325 Meetings on septic system proposals Placer County Board of Supervisors: 11 a.m. Tuesday. Discussion of AB 885 regulations. 175 Fulweiler Ave., Auburn. Assemblyman Ted Gaines’ town hall meeting: 6:30 p.m. Thursday. 175 Fulweiler Ave., Auburn. Rural Lincoln Municipal Advisory Committee: 7 p.m. Monday. Mt. Pleasant Hall. Penryn Municipal Advisory Committee: 7 p.m. Tuesday. Loomis Veterans Memorial Hall.