beach closed for bacteria

SIGN OF THE TIMES — Recent Russian River water problems  will be one focus of a state water quality workshop in Santa Rosa on Aug. 17.

A new plan released this week to battle the Russian River’s escalating bacteria counts calls for closer monitoring of old septic systems along the river from Monte Rio to Healdsburg’s Fitch Mountain.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB) has scheduled a public workshop Aug. 17 to discuss its latest “Total Maximum Daily Load Action Plan” for the Russian River.

The draft plan calls for an inspection of all undocumented Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) within 600 feet of the Russian River in Sonoma County. That has regenerated concerns that property owners will get stuck with expensive septic upgrade costs they can’t afford.

The cost for a single-family house to meet the state’s modern septic compliance regs could run from $4,000 to more than $40,000, according to state estimates. For a restaurant on a substandard septic system it could cost $150,000.

Alarmed Russian River area real estate brokers have called a meeting with state and county officials on Aug. 11 at Monte Rio’s Northwood Restaurant to talk about how the new action plan might impact property owners and renters who may face thousands of dollars in septic system improvement bills.

“It’s kind of a catch-all,” said Guerneville Realtor Herman Hernandez who is helping to orchestrate the Northwood meeting. “Everyone in one way or another is going to get hit.”

Hernandez said the timing of the release of the new action plan came as a surprise since the NCRWQCB backed off on a similar plan two years ago because of pushback from residents as well as the county’s Permit and Resources Management Department (PRMD).

A preliminary assessment of residences and commercial properties near the river in Monte Rio six years ago found most of the parcels had no record of any sewage disposal plans or permits on file with PRMD. The previous plan of two years ago listed Monte Rio, Cazadero, Camp Meeker, Guerneville, Rio Nido, Summer Home Park, Hacienda, Mirabel, and Healdsburg’s Fitch Mountain as “high priority“ septic problem areas where bacteria sources are contributing to river bacteria levels.

The latest plan noted that recent studies found “a wide range of human fecal waste DNA matches found in the Russian River and its tributaries.”

Affected property owners have had little notice of the new monitoring and implementation plan, said Hernandez. “You’d think we would have at least gotten some kind of a postcard.”

Friday’s meeting will be attended by PRMD Director Tennis Wick and representatives from state Sen. Mike McGuire’s office, Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and the NCRWQCB, said Hernandez.

The 2017 draft staff report and action plan are out for public review until Sept. 30. An adoption hearing will be held before the Regional Water Board at its December 12-13 meeting.

“There are likely to be numerous old, failing, or inadequately sited OWTS in need of replacement or upgrade,” says the Water Quality Control Board’s staff report.

 The plan’s stated purpose is to:

  • Improve the bacteriological quality of the surface waters in the Russian River watershed in order protect public health.
  • Set limits on the amount of fecal waste discharge to the surface waters of the Russian River watershed from controllable sources.
  • Describe an implementation plan necessary to identify and control fecal waste discharges, reduce fecal bacteria, and reduce the potential for pathogen exposure in the river watershed.
  • Describe the monitoring program necessary to ensure implementation results in achieving water quality objectives.

(4) comments

Beacon Brad

Anyone can plainly see the water quality records on the County's site. Monte Rio notoriously has had many many years of excessively contaminated river water, esp. once the river warms up. This will make you very sick, and if it gets into open wounds you can get a systemic staff and other infections and complications.. Part of the problem is obviously the Homeless factor in Guerneville upstream from Monte Rio. The County takes money from the State to "absorb" homeless folks from Sacramento and other parts of the state. They get a one-way bus ticket to Gurneville and the rest is history. The County and State need to provide sanitary facilities for the town of homeless vagabonds and stop taking money from the State and not using those funds to solve the problem. My guess - even if every resident on the river had an upgraded septic, Monte Rio would still have a sewage dump for a waterfront beach due to the homeless factors upstream from it.


The suggestion that this action is some kind of a surprise and that a postcard should have been sent for notice is missing the point.enabling the problem. Realtors have been on the front line of sales of homes with septic tanks and know first hand that many septics cannot pass any inspection, are redwood boxes built for seasonal use with a third of this population. PRMD is not the agency to lead any sewer plan, it headed the failed proposed Monte Rio Sewer Project that was couldn't to condemn Sheridan Ranch due to opposition. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on studies in the Monte Rio area, don't due another one, the data has already been proven. This is no surprise to homeowners especially in Monte Rio. With the decline of the septics and refusal to hook to sewer we've seen a decline in water quality to unsafe levels and the decline of a town. When a beach closure happens only at that beach coupled with warning for our pets and swimming in the River itself, its time for more than a meeting at Northwood. Everyone attending is aware of the this history and their side on it. Enough talk, are these leaders capable of any action at all?


The term "undocumented" in reference to OWTS (onsite wastewater treatment systems) is really a euphemism for illegal. So fellow taxpayers beware! These agencies all receive money from our property taxes. Yet they continue to "bite the hand that feeds them" with threats that we are the cause of all that is wrong with the River. I say "Prove it!" Until that happens they are not welcome on my property.


Why would ANY fecal release be allowed in the river???

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