Fed up with a state agency for allegedly dragging its feet as it tries to implement a set of septic system regulations, two environmental advocacy groups, including Santa Barbara’s Heal the Ocean, filed a lawsuit this week against the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The complaint blasts the board for taking too long — over seven years too long — to adopt septic system permitting and operation standards after a bill on the matter (AB 885) was introduced by former assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson and signed into law in 2000. The rules were supposed to go into effect by January 1, 2004.
“The delay occurring on this issue is truly embarrassing,” said Jackson in a statement. “We were able to land a man on the moon in less time than it’s taken for the State of California to get these regulations in place.” Dr. Mark Gold of Santa Monica’s Heal the Bay, the other nonprofit involved in the suit, said, “Since the State Water Board process has failed to produce final regulations seven years after the statutory deadline, we have no other choice but to sue the Board in order to protect public health and aquatic life.”
California is one of only two states in the country that doesn’t have set ways to monitor on-site wastewater treatment systems, the discharges of which have often been proven to contain pollutants like parasites, bacteria, toxic compounds, and heavy metals. These substances, say Heal the Ocean representatives, pose real risks to human and environmental health, and thousands of systems are “improperly sited in areas of high groundwater, poor soils, or next to creeks and beaches.” There are around 1.2 million septic systems operating throughout the state — pumping 420 million gallons of wastewater per day — that serve approximately 3.4 million people or 10 percent of California’s population.
Hillary Hauser, Heal the Ocean’s executive director, pointed specifically to Rincon Point as an area of concern, noting that improperly treated discharge from a cluster of septic systems in the area has and continues to make surfers and beach-goers sick. “DNA tests conducted by our organization confirmed the presence of human waste in the Rincon Lagoon,” Hauser said in a statement. “There are many places in California where septic systems do not belong, where similar leaching occurs daily.” Rainy weather, like the kind hitting the South Coast this weekend, only exacerbates the issue, said Hauser, as pollutants are flushed from properties in higher concentrations.
Courtesy Heal the Ocean