Imperial County Releases Draft Plan for Review by Owners of Septic Systems

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The plan may affect up to 400 septic system owners in Imperial County that are located near protected bodies of water.  Three local community meetings have been scheduled this month to provide information and respond to questions from the public.  

 

IMPERIAL COUNTY – The Imperial County Division of Environmental Health announced this week that it would initiate a public comment period on its draft Local Agency Management Program (LAMP) document for septic systems.  The document will be presented at three public community meetings this month where staff will explain the regulations and collect feedback and comments from the public.  Owners of existing septic systems will need to continue to comply with current standards; however those adjacent to an impaired water body who install a new or replacement septic system or have an existing system that has failed may be required to comply with enhanced protection standards. 

Jeff Lamoure, Deputy Director at the Imperial County Public Health Department stated, “It’s important for the public to know that the vast majority of properties in Imperial County with septic systems will not be impacted by the State plan and local alternative regulations.  The alternate plan drafted by Imperial County will allow more flexibility than what is currently in place in the State regulation.”

 

A few years ago, coastal communities in California lobbied for legislation that would restrict existing and new septic systems in order to protect impaired bodies of water in their communities.  AB885 was passed and adopted in 1999 and authorized by the State Legislature in 2000 as a result of lawsuits brought about by Heal the Ocean and Heal the Bay in order to enhance regulations governing the installation and operation of septic systems, with the goal of reducing pollution impacts to groundwater, surface water and the ocean. The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) was directed to create the regulations necessary to implement the goals of the new legislation. Rural counties in California worked to ensure that the regulations adopted state-wide allowed for local standards to meet the goal of protecting impaired water while allowing development to proceed and reducing unnecessary impacts on rural property owners and communities.  In May of 2013 the State Water Board implemented the regulations called the Water Quality Control Policy for Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (or septic systems).  For Imperial County to be able to implement alternative standards a Local Agency Management Program (LAMP) for septic systems must be adopted and then approved by the State Water Board.  The local LAMP document has been drafted for Imperial County and is being made available for public review.  Once the local review and Board of Supervisors adoption process is completed, the local LAMP document will be submitted to the State to meet a May, 2016 deadline.

 

In Imperial County the State has identified the Alamo River and the Palo Verde Drain and Lagoon as protected bodies of water in addition to two aquifers (Coyote Wells Ground Water Basin in Ocotillo area and the lower Colorado Basin in the Bard/Winterhaven area).   Environmental Health staff has conducted significant research on how the State regulations will impact our community and found that out of approximately 7,000 permitted septic systems in Imperial County, less than 200 may be impacted due to their proximity to impaired bodies of water while about 200 properties could be impacted due to their proximity to aquifers. The majority of the properties near aquifers are found in the Ocotillo area.  Environmental Health reports that about fifty-six properties with septic systems are located along the Alamo River and about one hundred and thirty are in the Palo Verde Area.

Two groundwater basins within Imperial County that are of special concern are the Coyote Wells and Lower Colorado River Basin Aquifers.  Septic systems built near aquifers currently have more requirements given the potential impacts that septic systems may have on groundwater quality in these designated areas.  The regulations related to the State Policy take into account hydrology and specific soil conditions that effect the rate in which soils percolate must be adhered to when designing onsite wastewater treatment systems.  Imperial County Environmental Health will continue to protect the aquifers while making sure that property owners have the flexibility to meet the regulations.

Along the Alamo River, about 35 of the 56 homes and businesses located on property along the river could be affected if owners install a new or replacement septic system, or if an existing  system fails.  The majority of properties that could potentially be affected include those located along the North-west section of Holtville, east of Brawley and the south-western portion of Calipatria. The Palo Verde area is the area that will be most impacted in the County.  Staff from Environmental Health has been conducting extensive assessments and has been working closely with the communities of Palo Verde and Walters Camp due to their proximity to the Palo Verde drain.  In addition, Environmental Health staff has been researching public funding alternatives to build the waste-water system and consider options regarding how this system can be maintained once it is in place.

Environmental Health staff will be hosting three community meetings to get feedback back on the regulations and answer questions from the public.  The first meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 20th at the City of Brawley Council Chambers located at 383 Main Street in Brawley at 6:00 PM and on Wednesday, October 21st at the Public Health Department Training Center located at 935 Broadway in El Centro at 6:00pm.  The third community meeting will be held on Friday October 23rd at the Palo Verde Improvement Association Clubhouse at 1050 DesertView Street, Palo Verde at 3:00pm.  The community meetings will be led by Environmental Management Associates, Inc., and Environmental Health staff will be available to answer questions and address concerns.

A copy of the document can be obtained from the Division of Environmental Health or online at http://www.icphd.com/environmental-health/news-release/ and written comments will be accepted through November 13, 2015.  Questions related to information contained in this news release can be submitted to Environmental Health at 442-265-1888.