Rains exacerbate sewage issues in Sonoma Valley
Ordinance aims to curb sewage overflows in Glen Ellen, other unincorporated communities
Sarah C. Phelps
To reduce the likelihood of raw sewage overflowing into the streets, especially during heavy winter rains, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a new ordinance that will require home and business owners in the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District to inspect and possibly repair their sewer laterals if they are 30 years or older and connected to the public sewer system. The Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District (SCVSD) serves approximately 36,000 customers in unincorporated communities including Glen Ellen, Boyes Hot Springs, El Verano and Agua Caliente. About 370 parcels in Glen Ellen are connected to the sewer system served by SVCSD.
Current district sanitation code requires the home and business owners to maintain the sewer pipes on their property (called the sewer lateral or side sewer) that connects to the public sewer system. Recent data shows approximately 7,800 connections in the sanitation district were built prior to 1986.
Because of the age of this infrastructure, things like cracks or illegal connections often allow more inflow into the collection system than it can handle, especially during winter storms. This is when sewage overflows are most likely to occur.
On a day after a weekend where crews were working around the clock to clean up six sewage spills, First District Supervisor Susan Gorin reminded the Board that SVCSD is in an expensive, more-than-two-decade-long program of replacing the aging main sewer trunkline that runs through the valley. An immense amount of time and money is involved in replacing aging infrastructure that provides fundamental services in the valley.
SVCSD is working to replace and increase the capacity of its existing 135-mile pipeline through Sonoma Valley and upgrade its treatment and disposal facilities in order to meet requirements imposed on it by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. In 2015, SVCSD was fined $732,000 by the Regional Water Quality Control Board for a series of overflows between 2010 and 2015. California River Watch also sued SVCSD over these same spills. This ordinance fulfills part of the agreements between SVCSD and those two organizations.
At its Jan. 10 meeting, the Board of Supervisors also approved a new loan program to assist home and business owners with the costs related to inspection and repair of their sewer laterals. Home and business owners can receive an up to $10,000 loan to help with repair costs, to be repaid over 10 years.
Construction costs for a sewer repair or replacement could run between $3,000-$7,000, plus permit fees of approximately $1,000. Inspections can cost a homeowner between $250-300, but SVCSD hopes to keep costs down by offering to take care of the inspections themselves.
Initially, the SVCSD has a target of approximately 200 inspections annually. If a sewer lateral fails an inspection, the business or homeowner will have one year to begin repairs.
In addition to the loan program, SVCSD is currently offering an up to $1,000 rebate for a limited time to assist owners with the cost of repairs and the Sonoma County Community Development Commission offers a loan program for low-income residents to receive loan funding for the permit processing and construction costs.
We are making huge investments to try to take care of these overflows, but a key part is this program, said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager for the Sonoma County Water Agency.
SVCSD has already held two public meetings about the sewer lateral ordinance and plans more targeted outreach to specific neighborhoods.