Hearing next week to adopt Russian River water pollution action plan
Sonoma County has hired a new ombudsman, Alisha O’Laughlin, to help river residents deal with the new maze of regulations targeting older sewage disposal systems along the Russian River and its tributaries.
“She knows the river,” said Susan Upchurch, district Director for Fifth District County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.
O’Loughlin, a Guerneville resident, will work out of the Sonoma County Administrator’s office and will also maintain part-time office hours in Monte Rio, said Upchurch.
O’Loughlin was selected from a field of 23 applicants for the job that will provide a community information resource with a focus on “outreach and education,” said Upchurch.
O’Loughlin’s hiring coincides with county efforts to implement its onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS) regulations and comply with state law establishing a “total maximum daily load” (TMDL) limiting pollutants detrimental to the beneficial uses of the Russian River and its tributaries.
The river ombudsman position was also filled in time for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s public hearing next week, Aug. 14, in Santa Rosa to adopt a TMDL action plan for the Russian River watershed.
The new regs ban cesspools and may require owners of properties served by OWTS within 600 feet of the Russian River and some of its tributaries to upgrade or replace old septic systems to bring them into compliance with the state rules.
At the very least many owners of developed properties served by OWTS near the river will have to have their systems inspected by “a qualified professional” and submit a report on whether the system is adequate or needs work.
But how the permit process will work and how much it will cost remained unclear at a North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) workshop in June.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors also questioned the adequacy of the process in comments to the NCRWQCB.
Although the county supports the goal of keeping the Russian River safe for recreational use, county officials cited “lack of outreach” to inform affected property owners about what’s coming down.
Next week’s action plan, if adopted, goes into effect next year. State officials estimate it will then take about five years to figure out where specific OWTS are failing, overloaded or otherwise need corrective action. When the clock starts ticking, owners of substandard OWTS have up to 15 or 20 years to bring them into compliance.
State estimates indicate that 10,000 septic systems may need upgrades in the Russian River watershed, and 5,000 might have to be replaced to bring the properties into compliance with modern health and building codes.
The Russian River in Sonoma County is now officially designated as an “impaired” water body owing to high levels of pathogenic bacteria associated with human and animal waste. Substandard septic systems, dairy runoff, recreational users, homeless camps and pet waste have been identified as contributing to river pollution.
O’Loughlin may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 565-6415.