Assembly Bill (AB) 885 Update
As many of you know AB 885 was first introduced in 1998 as a coastal bill to deal with onsite wastewater disposal systems (OWTS) that were located on beaches in southern California. The scope of the Bill was later broadened to require statewide regulations for all onsite wastewater treatment systems. In 2008, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) released proposed regulations, which received overwhelming opposition from the public and key stakeholders. After a long period on inactivity, the SWRCB is now mobilizing staff resources in an effort to finalize and adopt AB 885 regulatory documents no later than March 2012.
How Does the New Policy Affect OWTS (Septic System) Owners
More than 95 percent of current OWTS owners will not need to make any changes to their septic systems. If an individual OWTS is currently in good operating condition, and it is not near a stream, river, or lake that has been identified as an “impaired water body” – then this policy will have little or no affect on that property owner. An “impaired water body” is a stream, river, or lake that the State has identified as contaminated with bacteria and/or nitrogen related compounds. Calaveras County does not have any water bodies that have been identified as “impaired” or designated as 303(d) water bodies. The SWRCB has estimated that the new proposed policy will affect less than five percent of current OWTS. The proposed policy will require owners of small, domestic OWTS to be regulated through a set of “tiers”.
General Overview of Tiers
• If the OWTS is operating properly, being used as it was designed, not leaking, and not putting any nearby surface water body at risk – then the OWTS are covered by Tier 0 as long as they continue to meet its requirements.
• If it is necessary to install a new OWTS, replace or upgrade one, and the local permitting agency does not have an approved Local Agency Management Program, the OWTS must meet the requirements of Tier 1.
• Taking into account the diversity of California geography, local agencies may develop their own Local Agency Management Programs for OWTS under Tier 2. These local agency managed programs will likely be managed by local and or regional ordinances that take specific geography, terrain, and geology into account when approving an OWTS installation, much the same as occurs now under local permitting agencies.
• If the OWTS is located near a water body that has been identified as an “impaired water body’ for either bacteria or nitrates, then the OWTS belongs in Tier 3 until a determination is made that the OWTS is not contributing to the local water quality problem. For those OWTS near specifically identified water bodies, upgrades to the OWTS may be required within certain timeframes.
• Finally, if the OWTS is failing, needs to be fixed, or has been found to be affecting groundwater or surface water to a degree that makes it unfit to drink or for other uses, it belongs in Tier 4 and must be modified or upgraded to abate its impact.
The goal of the Calaveras County Onsite Wastewater Department is to develop a Local Agency Management Program (Tier 2) and regulate OWTS by local codes and ordinances. The current Rules and Regulations for Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems and local ordinance (Title 13) would be used to develop a local management program to submit to the State for approval. If a local management program is approved, then OWTS will be permitted and regulated in the same way it occurs now.
Who Will Be Affected By the Proposed Policy
Owners of existing OWTS near an impaired water body, someone building a new home, or someone replacing an existing system that has failed.
Each state is required by federal law to evaluate the quality of its surface waters every two years to ensure those water resources are available for beneficial uses. Common beneficial uses for surface water include drinking water, support of aquatic life, and recreational contact-sports such as swimming. Owners of OWTS that are located near a specifically identified surface water body that exceeds water quality standards for bacteria or nitrogen compounds such as nitrates may have to retrofit their septic systems. As cited above, water bodies in Calaveras County have not been identified as impaired.
For property owners that would like to build a new home or replace an existing system, the goal is to use the current Rules and Regulations and local ordinance per Tier 2, mentioned above, as the regulating document.
How to Stay Informed
The goal is for those who think they might be affected, to both stay informed and participate. The State Water Board has created a new website where you can find the most current information regarding development of the new proposed policy:
In addition, you can subscribe to the SWRCB e-mail list by using the following link:
Navigate to Water Quality topics and then subscribe to it putting a “check” in the box next to:
Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS)-Septic Systems
All publicly-released documents, opportunities to comment, as well as meeting notices are distribute via this list both by US Mail and by email notifications.