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Septic System Round-up

By Datta Khalsa, Broker

After years of operating under California’s restrictive statewide septic guidelines which were imposed in the absence of having a state-approved Land Area Management Program (or LAMP), Santa Cruz County recently adopted their new revised LAMP, and what the County now requires pretty closely resembles the State regulations.

The justification for all this was increased water quality degradation, particularly in the San Lorenzo River, but the regulations come at a price. Due to a shortage of service providers, costs have skyrocketed and there are also significant delays to get someone to design and install a system. Coinciding with these new policies, the terminology now used by the County for septics has been changed to Onsite Water Treatment Systems, referred to as “OWTS” for short—which happens to rhyme with “ouch”.

Gone are the days of allowing as little as 1-3 feet of separation between your leach fields and the groundwater. The standards now require 5 feet of separation, which makes it challenging or impossible to install a system that will meet the guidelines for many properties. The alternative is to go to an enhanced treatment system which allows 2’ separation, and these systems cost a staggering $70K-$90K, roughly double to triple the cost of a standard system.

The largest impact of the new LAMP is likely to be the point-of-sale requirement that the OWTS for any property being sold be evaluated—for both its system characteristics and file reports—to determine what upgrades or replacement may be required to comply with current standards. On the bright side, this will ensure the buyer gets the information they need to evaluate the system and assess the feasibility of any future plans they may have. On the other hand, it adds a significant burden on the process of buying and selling a property.

The POS was originally scheduled to go into effect in January, but was recently pushed back to July as the County continues to deliberate with service providers and representatives from the local Association of Realtors on how to ensure the program is workable and doesn’t hold up sales, while providing the information the County wants. The way it is currently taking shape is to require a pumpers report and a standard disclosure report (i.e. one which is not specific to the system) to be completed by the Seller.

Under the program, a pumpers report will not pass if there are any signs of high level or past high level or if the leach field doesn’t meet a 30-minute flow test. However, if a system is substandard but functioning there is no requirement for upgrades. The evaluation will be done during the transaction by inspectors in the private sector and submitted to county staff, in much the same way that sewer lateral inspections are reviewed within the urban service areas.

There is also an option for transfer of responsibility for the repairs to the buyer, with the recommended repairs or replacement to be completed within 90 days, subject to administrative discretion.

It all adds up to a higher standard, which will be welcomed by some, while others may be inspired to get their property sold before the new standard kicks in.

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