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Septic Tank Regulations in California

Whether you already have a septic tank or are planning to get one installed and you live in California, you should familiarize yourself with the specific septic tank regulations of this state. These regulations are designed to prevent environmental pollution caused by malfunctioning, or improperly installed or poorly maintained septic systems. Compliance matters. If your non-compliant septic tank releases household wastewater into nearby water bodies, you may be slapped with a heavy fine.

Homeowners should follow septic tank regulations in California when installing, maintaining, pumping, and replacing their septic systems. Also, the design of a septic system should conform to regulations established by the regulatory body.

If you’re looking for Septic Tank Treatment Sonoma County, reach out to L.J.Construction. We are your local septic tank experts and trusted partners in understanding California’s septic tank rules and regulations. 

California Septic Tank Regulations & Guidelines

There are several rules and regulations surrounding septic tanks in California. The best way to ensure all septic tank rules and regulations are followed is to hire a septic tank contractor for septic tank installation, replacement, and maintenance. A local septic tank contractor understands septic tank regulations in California and the implications of non-compliance. They provide their clients with guidance every step of the way, helping them avoid mistakes that can lead to compliance issues.

In California, the State Water Resources Control Board creates septic tank regulations. Its Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) Policy, which became effective on 13 May 2013, assigns the principal responsibility for oversight to regional boards. These boards ensure that the OWTS Policy requirements are incorporated into their basin plans, aiming for more effective and efficient regulation of onsite systems.

Categories of Septic System

California’s newly amended septic system regulations categorize septic systems based on their state of repair, and the nature and extent of risk they pose to local water bodies and the environment. Onsite wastewater treatment systems in California are divided into five tiers.

  • Tier 0: Septic systems in this category are determined to be working properly and in a good state of repair and do not pose any threats to the local environment.
  • Tier 1: Septic systems that are installed recently in low-risk areas and replacements fall into this category. There are no local agency management programs in place in these areas.
  • Tier 2: Septic systems that are installed in areas with local agency management programs or LAMPs. There is a slight chance of newly installed septic systems and replacements in these areas malfunctioning due to unique risk factors.
  • Tier 3: Septic systems in this category must comply with more stringent requirements than systems that fall in the above three categories.
  • Tier 4: This category includes septic systems that have fallen into disrepair and are polluting nearby water bodies. Septic systems in this category should comply with the strictest regulations and are regularly monitored by the local government.

Obtaining Septic System Permits in California

Before installing or repairing a septic system, California homeowners should pull all the necessary permits. Whether you need a permit depends on various factors such as your system’s size and location, and compliance requirements.

Minor repairs such as lid replacement, distribution box replacement, or pipe repair might not need a permit, but major repairs will, especially if they deviate from Tier 1 OWTS Policy regulations or are located in regions with specific management programs​.

When is a Permit not Required?

If your septic system meets the siting and design standards of Tier 1 of the OWTS policy or the conditions and requirements established by an approved Local Agency Management Program, you may go ahead with the repair without obtaining a permit. 

Permits help the state of California ensure that all repairs and installations are carried out properly and accurately determine the number of households using septic tanks. Depending on a homeowner’s location, the Central Coast Water Board, the local county, or city can issue a permit.

Septic System Inspections in California

Regular inspections are highly recommended to ensure septic systems function properly, with guidelines suggesting inspections after installation or replacement, and periodically every 6 months to a year. Regular inspection and maintenance help prevent potential environmental hazards and ensure compliance with state and local regulations.

Replacement and Installation of Septic Systems in California

Septic systems should be installed and replaced by certified professionals. Before starting a septic system installation or replacement project, the contractor should test the soil, perform a site evaluation, and obtain the necessary permits. A  sketch explaining the components and design of the septic system and the permit should be submitted to the governing authority for review. 

When having septic systems installed or replaced, homeowners should make sure all guidelines that state how far a septic tank can be placed from a home and how deep the drain field of a septic tank can be buried are followed.

Penalties and Other Consequences for Violating System Regulations in California

Homeowners who have the waste collected from their septic systems disposed of without obtaining a permit can land in a legal soup. If an uncertified individual with no prior experience cleans or pumps their septic tank or tries to dispose of their household waste, the county or state, and even the EPA can slap them with a steep penalty. Similarly, if a septic tank is installed, repaired, or replaced without the necessary permits, the homeowner may incur a penalty.

Homeowners may also be asked to pay penalties if their septic systems are not up to code or if design problems affect their efficiency. Penalties for violations are determined by the city or county and can vary between $250 and $25,000 or more.

In some cases, if the city or county deems a septic system unfit for use and believes that it poses a threat to nearby water bodies, the homeowner may be prohibited from using any water services until the old system is replaced with a new system. If a homeowner’s septic system pollutes the environment, they may be held liable for damages.

L.J. Construction specializes in septic tank treatment in Sonoma County. We go to great lengths to ensure compliance when installing, servicing, and replacing septic tanks. To talk to one of our experts, call (707) 823-0247.