State regulators Wednesday presented a new proposal to govern septic systems that may be polluting California rivers, removing many of the requirements that drew heavy criticism two years ago.
"There are some dramatic changes in this policy," said Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the state Water Resources Control Board. "There is no longer mandatory septic tests, no longer mandatory well testing, no longer the need to create an operating manual."
Still, the proposal ran into some criticism at two hearings in Santa Rosa, where it was viewed as another layer of government.
"I am concerned that the regional board will layer additional requirements on top of the local boards," said Steve Lederer, director of environmental services for Napa County.
Napa County Supervisor Dianne Dillon was concerned about the impact on landowners who may face costly septic system repairs, even though state officials said there are funds available for low-interest loans.
"We can't have residents abandon their homes because they can't afford the costly advanced treatment systems," Dillon said.
The plan was outlined in afternoon and evening meetings at the Wells Fargo Center attended by 425 residents, far fewer than a crowd estimated at more than 2,000 who showed up when the first state proposal was unveiled two years ago.
Polhemus said the proposal is intended to have local water quality control boards address the problems of polluted waterways and septic systems.
In the case of Sonoma County, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board would deal with pollution in parts of the Russian River, Petaluma River, Laguna de Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa Creek and Sonoma Creek.
The regional boards would have five years to determine where the pollution was coming from, what role septic systems play and how to regulate fixing failed systems and systems for new homes, Polhemus said.
"There are no requirements for individual property owners," he said.
However, if the regional water boards do not come up with a program, then individual property owners living within 600 feet of the polluted waterways will be directly impacted, according to the proposed regulations.
Those landowners would be required to make retrofits if problems are discovered. The cost could be as much as $27,000 for improvements to a system serving a three-bedroom home.
"I am concerned about clear water, but as a single mother and a low-income person, I am concerned about requirements that could price me out of my home," said Brenda Adelman of the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee.
Other speakers were adamantly opposed to the state water board proposal, questioning its authority and saying t was an unfair restriction on homeowners.
Public comments on the proposals will be until Nov. 15 and public hearings will be held next spring.