(Marin Independent Journal (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 22--A new Marin County Civil Grand Jury report on the county's 23 sewer agencies recommends that all the agencies require repair of private sewer laterals when properties are remodeled or sold.
The report also advocates the use of treated wastewater, instead of potable water, to flush sewer pipes.
"In a drought period, this is an important water conservation step for Marin," the report says. And the grand jury urges agencies to consider merging or at least working more collaboratively.
The grand jury's first two recommendations coincide with initiatives that have already been launched by several Marin sewer agencies.
On Wednesday, the Ross Valley Sanitary District's Board of Directors voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance requiring that laterals be inspected when properties are listed for sale or prior to issuance of a permit for a remodel valued at $75,000 or more.
"Based on staff recommendation and an usual consensus on our board, we passed it," said Mary Sylla, president of the Ross Valley Sanitary District board of directors.
Then on Thursday, the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin's Board of Commissioners also approved unanimously a model ordinance that would require sewer laterals to be inspected prior to the transfer of a property title or issuance of a permit for a remodel valued at $50,000 or more.
Sausalito and Belvedere already require sewer lateral inspections when property is sold.
The grand jury said several district managers told it that the issue of leaky sewer laterals "is as serious as the deteriorating pipe network owned by the collection agencies."
That is because during wet winter months a significant amount of rainwater enters through cracks in these privately owned laterals, which connect homes and businesses with sewer main lines. Because that additional water flows to treatment plants, treatment costs are increased significantly.
"It could be on the order of 50 percent of the total flow in a year according to the numbers we looked at within the city of Mill Valley," said Jill Barnes, Mill Valley's director of public works, who oversees the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin.
"We know that it has a large economic impact," Barnes said. "It also puts us at risk for overflows."
Barnes said the model ordinance would not interfere with property sales since it allows 180 days for repair of laterals.
Now that the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin commissioners have approved the model ordinance, it will be sent on for consideration by the boards of the agency's six member districts: Almonte, Alto, Homestead Valley, Richardson Bay, Tamalpais and the city of Mill Valley.
The ordinance is opposed, however, by the Marin Association of Realtors.
Blaine Morris, the association's president, said most real estate agents in Marin are already advising their clients to have their laterals inspected.
"We all know it's a problem," Morris said. "So what this will do -- for the most part -- is insert bureaucratic oversight into an activity that is already occurring."
In addition, Morris said, the ordinance would be ineffective because it takes about 47 years for housing stock to change hands in Mill Valley.
"If this is such a public health crisis," Morris said, "we feel the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin should come up with a real plan to solve the problem, instead of a 50-year plan."
The Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin disagreed with MAR's assessment. The agency's staff estimates that 40 percent of Mill Valley homes would be inspected within five years.
In addition to property sales and remodels, the inspection requirement would be triggered whenever there is construction on a sewer main or road near a private sewer lateral.
The Marin Association of Realtors made no effort to oppose the Ross Valley Sanitary District ordinance because the ordinance's adoption was required as part of a cease-and-desist order issued by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. The order was issued after repeated sewage spills also required that the district generate the revenue needed to better maintain its 200 miles of pipe.
As for the grand jury's recommendation that districts boost their use of recycled wastewater for such uses as pipe flushing, the Central Marin Sanitation Agency is already in the process of seeking the necessary regulatory permits to do this.
Thomas Gaffney, who was elected to the Ross Valley Sanitary District's board in June and served as its financial consultant from the early 1970s until 2007, says that during the state's last major drought significant amounts of potable water had to be used to flush pipes.
A certain amount of fluid is required to move solid waste through sewer pipes to treatment plants. As people flush their toilets less often to conserve water, the amount of water in the system is reduced.
Jason Dow, manager of Central Marin Sanitation Agency, said, "Historically, wastewater agencies have always gotten meters from the water district and connected up to fire hydrants and filled up their sewer flushing vehicles with drinking water."
(c)2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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