RRWPC Newsletter, February 2021: Septic Rules & TUPC

Change is everywhere….In this COVID-19 age, when it seems like every ordinary mundane activity is turned upside down, and nothing is quick and efficient anymore, we want desperately to believe that things will go back to normal soon.  The effects of unprecedented change can be nerve wracking.  We’re staying at home more, and supposedly having more time to get things done,

but everything seems to take longer. Schedules have been decimated and we often don’t know what day it is.

Our work space may have dwindled down to a small table upon which our computers reside and/or may include work papers spread out upon a bed. Instead of Starbucks, the kitchen has become the place where we enjoy our morning coffee and Danish, but often alone. Bedrooms and dining rooms have been turned into offices and living rooms into family activity centers or classrooms.  Office buildings are mostly empty.  (I entered a medium sized office building the other day and it felt spooky with only a few people around. My meeting, where documents had to be signed, was held in a vacant hallway.)

For the first time in umpteen years, this mailer is over a month late, and three months since the last one.  As I write this, I am waiting for a shipment of #9 window envelopes to send with this letter.  Last week I went to pick some up at the usual place and the store was gone.  When I tried to reach the national company, there was no response.  I immediately ordered from somewhere else and they got the order all wrong.  I have tried again at a third business and we’ll see.  Hopefully we can get this letter out before the week is up. If not, we are sure you’ll understand.

Local agencies seem discombobulated as well…..RRWPC comments on Sonoma County Water Agency’s low flow environmental impact report were submitted four years ago.  Projected release of the revised draft was recently moved (again) from “this spring” to “sometime this year”.  We can’t get too upset however because local agencies have had to deal, not only with COVID and its social and economic outcomes, but also with huge fire storms that caused the destruction of thousands of structures, numerous lives were lost, and great environmental damage was done. In addition, the sixth greatest flood in recorded history occurred between fires, and the most worrisome national political scene was on display with seemingly non-ending, precedent-setting turmoil.  And this year we now have a new draught in the make.  (At least we are not in Texas and the Midwest where below zero temperatures are occurring, the electric is out for millions of people, water pipes are frozen, new feet of snow and icy roads make travel conditions extremely dangerous, and people are freezing and starving from Arctic level temperatures.)  All of these conditions add to a widespread sense of general chaos, and even though some situations are not happening in our own back yard, they are undoubtedly having reverberating impacts on recent memories of local fires and floods.

New septic system rules being held up….Agency staff are mostly working from home, and while they have tried to be responsive to requests, it hasn’t been easy or routine for anyone.  The North Coast Regional Board approved the Pathogen TMDL (including new rules governing bacterial and pathogen issues in the Russian River) but they have been waiting over a year for the State Board to give their approval so they can move forward with implementation of new septic regulations and a septic upgrade plan for Monte Rio and Villa Grande, which may serve as a test case for other West County communities.  No one seems able to move forward in a timely manner.  The public sometimes feels left out of the decision making process because all meetings are by Zoom now, although they are public meetings which any of you are welcome to view.  (If you are interested, drop us an email and we will find a way to connect you to monthly Zoom meetings of our Citizens Advisory Group.)

In the meantime, implementation of new rules are being held up.  The County’s new septic rules and manual have been revised extensively. (After the County approves them, they have to go to the North Coast Regional Water Board for approval. It usually takes months to get items on the very busy agendas of both agencies and documents repeatedly keep getting tweaked and changed to cause further delay.)  As a member of the Citizens Advisory Group (CAG), RRWPC intends to stay focused on this issue.  We are playing watchdog over a situation that can cause difficulties for many residents and we want to help provide a smooth transition, if possible.

Here are a few key local issues:

What entity will oversee septic inspections and provide general management services?

What funds are available to help low income home owners make repairs?

Will enough be available to serve all those in need?  Who will administer funds?  Etc.

Since there will be many new requirements, and inspections by qualified experts will be necessary, people will have many questions.  Staff have been hired by the County to explain new requirements to the public, but it won’t be easy.  These people need to be familiar with the community, the environment, and the legal and financial requirements to make their systems compliant.  What is not decided yet is whether septic system improvements and/or replacement will be required, or perhaps community systems will be established where a group of structures share a leach field, or a hook up to Russian River County Sanitation District will be the means of compliance, or a combination of any of these.  Consultants will be hired to develop an environmental impact report and design a system, taking into consideration the new regulations and community needs. RRWPC will continue to track this situation to keep you informed.

Our group has been tracking lower Russian River sewer issues off and on for the last 40 years.  We are very aware that the community wants to be fully and honestly informed about what to expect.  It is our goal to assure that the community is treated honestly and fairly.  We believe that many, if not most septic systems in Monte Rio and Villa Grande need to be inspected and a determination made as to compliance with the new rules.  Many of the systems are probably not compliant with existing rules, let alone new rules currently being developed.  We all should want a clean river and clean environment, but affordability is a huge consideration.

Brief update on Temporary Urgency Change Orders and lower river….In early January of this year, the Sonoma County Water Agency filed a Temporary Urgency Change Petition (TUCP) with the State Water Board.  The petition was granted in early February.  We have never known the Agency to file this petition so early before, and if we have major rains by June 1, 2021, and Lake Mendocino is sufficiently full, it could be rescinded. So far flow levels have not been determined.  That will probably occur by May 31st.  Depending on how much rain we get in the next four months, minimum flows could be set from 40 to 85 cfs.

Rainfall in Santa Rosa (official measure for our area) from July 1st through this date was about 9”.  In 2019-2020 it was 15.35” and for 2018-2019 (year of big flood) it was 42”.  Average years run about 34” in Santa Rosa.  Compare that to the 9” they have had so far and it’s clear we are in a drought.  Last year with 15” was considered the third driest year historically.  This year so far is considered the second driest in recorded history. So it’s time to pray for more rain in the next two months.  We can’t argue with the filing of a TUCP when things are this bad.

NOTE: We just learned that the Russian River County Sanitation District revised NPDES Permit may be released in a few weeks and a hearing probably in June before the Board.  We will do an email announcement but if you didn’t give us your email address, please contact Regional Board.

RRWPC needs your continued support!  RRWPC needs your continued support to sustain our river protection work. For those who have not donated recently, we appreciate any donation so that we know you remain interested in receiving our mailers and supporting our work.  RRWPC relies exclusively on six (or fewer) mailers a year for our entire fiscal support.  Those who have not responded in the last two years may be removed from our list at any time (see date of last donation on mailer envelope). You may contribute via check by mail or PayPal at our website.   Thank you for your support.  Brenda











































The west county septic history is an on-going one that began almost 50 years ago when we first got involved and which has sustained our work over all these years.  I raised an issue to a Regional Board staff person recently about Russian River County Sanitation District (RRCSD) history.  The question came up, in the context of figuring out what to do about the Monte Rio/Villa Grande situation, concerning the establishment of Guerneville’s tollection and treatment system.  It turns out the initiation of













Low Flow about to heat up again….