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.