Heal the Ocean Celebrates Approval of Septic System Regulations

After years of effort, Heal the Ocean (HTO) succeeded on Friday, November 20, 2015 in helping win the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s approval of Santa Barbara County’s plan to regulate septic systems in its jurisdiction.

The new regulations, set forth in the County’s Local Agency Management Program (LAMP), establish requirements for the operation and installation of new and existing septic systems, conditions for upgrade to supplemental treatment, and a new program to address groundwater pollution from faulty systems. The newly adopted program had its birth under Assembly Bill 885, drafted by then-Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson in 1999.

Regulations under AB 885 were originally set to be completed by 2004, but were ultimately delayed for years. In 2011, Heal the Ocean and Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay filed a “friendly” lawsuit to spur the State Water Board to finish the implementation of this policy. For over a year HTO traveled to Sacramento to participate in workshops to pin down every word of the regulations.

Following State Water Board adoption in 2012, the Onsite Wastewater Treatment System Policy went into effect in May 2013, which started the clock on a 2016 deadline for all counties in California to develop their own LAMPs.

Heal the Ocean participated in an over year-long stakeholder process, led by County staff, and consisting of engineers, septic pumpers, agricultural representatives, the real estate community, and others, to develop the County’s LAMP.

At a key stage in the development of Santa Barbara County’s LAMP, Heal the Ocean protested to the Regional Water Board to require action in addressing existing septic systems in areas of the County where previous studies pointed to risks of pollution. In response to Heal the Ocean’s input, the adopted regulations establish one of the first programs in the state tailored to address groundwater pollution specifically from faulty or substandard septic systems.

Following this hard-won victory, Heal the Ocean’s Executive Director Hillary Hauser said, “We have been pushing for greater regulation of septic systems since our founding in 1998, and the County and Regional Water Board deserve enormous credit for pushing aggressively to adopt this program. We look forward to working with the regulators to make sure the new rules are put to good use.”

Please visit our Local Agency Management Program page for more on Heal the Ocean's work on this issue.