Rising tide of criticism pushes back state septic hearing

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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By Gus Thomson

Journal Staff Writer


Those worried about a new $325 fee for septic system inspections can breathe easier.

Facing an uprising of rural septic system users opposed to inspections and fees, the State Water Resources Control Board announced Friday an extension of a comment period on proposed measures and postponement of a Feb. 9 Sacramento hearing until further notice.

Auburn-area residents attending a town-hall meeting Thursday on septic systems and wastewater treatment options were apprised of the latest wrinkle. The control board's executive office confirmed Friday in a statement that it was taking steps to react to widespread concern among septic users about new regulations.

"As a result of a large public turnout and subsequent concerns for public safety, water board staff was unable to conduct the Jan. 27 workshop in Santa Rosa," the announcement said. "Because the water board is committed to hearing from the public on this important issue, the workshop has been rescheduled to a new date and a larger venue."

The Jan. 27 workshop and hearing in Santa Rosa has now been slated for Feb. 9, which will leave the Sacramento hearing scheduled for that date postponed until further notice from the board.

Several Placer County residents, including 5th District Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery and Wally Reemelin, president of the League of Placer County Taxpayers, had said they would address the board at the Feb. 9 hearing in Sacramento. On Thursday, Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, said he would attempt to repeal the 2000 legislation behind the proposed regulations.

The water board is now saying the draft package of regulations will be rewritten before the Sacramento hearing. That hearing was scheduled to be the final one on a draft that had raised hackles in rural areas. There are an estimated 1.2 million septic systems in California, including 26,000 in Auburn.

"The state water board is sensitive to the concerns raised at the public workshops and the regulations will be revised following consideration of the public comments, as appropriate," the release states.

David Vonasek, a Weimar resident who attended Thursday's hearing, said he was planning to organize a large group from his area to take part in the Sacramento hearing.

"We don't want polluted water but to punish the sins of a few by punishing the masses is crazy," Vonasek said.

Vonasek was alluding to a septic system problem in Malibu that led to an effort on a statewide basis in 2000 to regulate septic systems with inspections. Assembly Bill 885 was supported by the Sierra Club and surfers while opposed by the California Association of Realtors. The bill's proposed regulations are now drawing fire. 

The proposal that has irked so many would have seen all state septic systems inspected by private contractors with a certificate being sent in by the state - similar to what occurs on smog checks. The estimated cost for a check and certificate, which was estimated to be needed every five years, was $325. Well owners would have had to pay $325 for a separate inspection.

Thursday's town-hall meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 150. Jill Pahl, the county's environmental health director, said meetings over the past month on the issue that have been held throughout Placer have drawn about 1,000 people in total.

The Santa Rosa meeting was cancelled by fire officials due to overcrowding after more than 500 people showed up for a meeting in a 400-seat hall. The new venue will hold 1,500 people.

Due to end Feb. 9, the written public comment period has been extended to Feb. 23 at noon.

The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at



Send a comment:

The State Water Board is extending the period to receive written comments on proposed fees, inspections and regulations to noon on Feb. 23.

Comments must be submitted to:

Mr. Todd Thompson, P.E.

Division of Water Quality

State Water Resources Control Board

1001 I St.

P.O. Box 2231

Sacramento, CA 95812


Fax is: (916) 341-5463


Email comments to:


Letters to the editor at the Journal are also welcome, although they won't be part of the public hearing process of the water board.