Our view: Tell the state we won’t be ‘Malibuted’

By The Daily Triplicate February 14, 2009 09:12 am

We’ve gone for many months now without getting what we want from our leaders in Sacramento: a budget compromise that realistically addresses California’s fiscal crisis and keeps state government afloat.

Meanwhile, they’ve come up with a real doozy that we don’t want in the form of new septic tank guidelines that could cost homeowners tens of thousands of dollars.

This is no small deal in Del Norte County, where about 7,700 households rely on septic systems to treat their wastewater. The proposed rules would require inspections every five years, costing homeowners $325 or more for the test, and double that if they also have water wells to be inspected. The rules could also prevent the installation of new systems or increase their cost by $20,000–$40,000, experts say.

Septic tanks do need monitoring, but that’s already handled here by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. “We just don’t have many issues with septic systems,” said Leon Perreault, the county’s director of environmental health.

The issues are in Malibu, the celebrity-studded beach town in Los Angeles County. Residents and city officials there have long sought to limit development by refusing to build a wastewater treatment plant. But many of their homes sit on sandy beaches, and that’s proven to be problematic for septic systems. Human waste leaks from septic leach fields into groundwater and makes its way to the sea.

“People are always getting sick — sinus infections, stomach, gastrointestinal viruses, and you just chalk it up to this is where I surf,” Joe Melchione of the Malibu Surfing Association told the Associated Press recently.

Transplant that problem to Del Norte, and you can bet water quality officials would have jumped on it a long time ago. But Malibu has money to match its strong desire to keep its in-city septic tanks and restrict growth. So the Legislature decided in 2000 that the only way to fix the problem was to inflict strict new septic tank guidelines throughout California.

Those proposed guidelines are now the subject of hearings around the state, and people are turning out in droves to oppose this one-size-fits-all approach. The state has postponed the deadline for submitting public comments until Feb. 23.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board seems to have finally found the will to address the real problem by voting to take control of all commercial septic tanks in Malibu and demanding that the city prepare to break ground for a sewer system.

And a Roseville assemblyman has introduced a bill to repeal the 2000 law requiring the statewide restrictions.

Don’t count on these developments to derail costly new septic tank rules. In this space every Thursday, The Triplicate publishes information about how to contact your public officials. You might want to drop a line to your state leaders on this issue.

More urgent is the need to send in your comments before the Feb. 23 deadline. By email they should go to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it The fax number is 916-341-5463. Or send them by regular mail to Mr. Todd Thompson, P.E., Division of Water Quality, State Water Resources Control Board, P.O. Box 2231, Sacramento, CA 95812.

Other states sometimes decry “Californication.” Now it’s time for us to resist being “Malibuted.”