Suing Over Septics

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Despite years of public outcry at Rincon and other locales, the State Water Board has been slow to adopt mandated regulations on septic systems

Enough is enough.  Although Heal the Bay generally only uses litigation as a last resort, we do have our limits.  On Tuesday, Santa Barbara environmental group Heal the Oceans and Heal the Bay filed a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board for its failure to implement Assembly Bill 885, which required the Board to develop regulations for on-site wastewater treatment systems. AB 885 was authored by former assembly member Hannah-Beth Jackson in 1999 and Gov. Davis signed it into law in 2000. The bill required the Board to develop regulations for the siting, permitting and operation of on-site wastewater treatment systems, or OWTS, by 2004.

The regulations took aim at septic systems, which pose a serious threat to water quality at several famous beaches up and down the coast.  After seven years of patience and a decade of regulatory negotiations with the state, county health agencies, OWTS experts and local government representatives, the environmental groups involved felt that they had no choice but to sue the state to ensure that the law would be implemented. Coast Law Group filed the suit on behalf of the organizations.

Both groups were instrumental in the passage of the law as bill sponsors.  In the 1990s, while Hillary Hauser and Heal the Oceans led efforts to clean up chronically polluted Rincon, Heal the Bay pushed for cleanup at the even more polluted Surfrider Beach.  Both groups noted scientific studies that found human pathogens in the adjacent coastal lagoons — strong evidence that nearby septic systems were causing or contributing to chronic water quality problems that posed health risks to the surfing community.

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No Poo at the ‘Bu

The septics prohibition - a major step towards cleaner water at Surfrider Beach

The septics prohibition - a major step towards cleaner water at Surfrider Beach & Lagoon. Photo: Jon Shafer

On Tuesday afternoon, the California State Water Board voted unanimously to support the Regional Water Board’s prohibition of on-site wastewater plants in the Malibu Civic Center area. Commercial facilities must be off septics by 2015 and residential sites must be off by 2019.

Opposition to the action was strong with Malibu’s City Attorney threatening litigation if the State Board upheld the prohibition. Malibu City Council members, local residents and the business community all opposed the prohibition citing cost concerns and Malibu’s new found commitment to Clean Water. Continue reading

Victory at Sea

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After 18 years of fighting for clean water, surfers in Malibu score a major win

The Regional Water Board voted 5-2 last night to approve a moratorium on septic systems in the Malibu civic center area.  In a bid to clean up chronically polluted Surfrider Beach, the measure bans any new septic systems in the area and mandates removal of existing systems by 2015 for commercial properties and 2019 for residential properties.  The environmental community — Baykeeper, Surfrider Foundation, Malibu Surfing Assn. and Heal the Bay — came out in large numbers to support a prohibition and moratorium for the civic center area.   It was a great organizing effort that involved all groups.

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