• Septic

Updating Our Septic System Policies

The County of Sonoma is updating County regulations for septic systems (OWTS Manual) in order to meet state mandated regulations that protect water quality and public health.

On this page:

OWTS Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to the County’s septic system program and proposed updates to septic policy.

County Seeks Community Input on Septic System Policy Updates

Community Meetings

The County of Sonoma is updating County regulations for septic systems in order to meet state mandated regulations that protect water quality and public health. Permit Sonoma invites the public to attend upcoming community meetings to share feedback on the proposed Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) Manual. The community meetings will be held in September and October 2018.

View List of Meeting Dates and Locations

OWTS Online Survey

Please give us your feedback by answering just a few online questions.

What is the OWTS Manual?

The Onsite Waste Treatment Systems (OWTS) Manual provides the policy, procedural and technical details governing individual onsite wastewater treatment systems (also referred to as septic systems). State law mandates the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopt standards for regulation of onsite waste treatment systems ( OWTS Policy). The OWTS Manual complies with the State Water Resources Control Board OWTS Policy Tier 2 Local Area Management Program (LAMP) requirements.

Revised OWTS Manual – August 31, 2018

This is the proposed OWTS Manual from August 2018. It incorporates feedback from the public and Board of Supervisors at the May 22, 2018 Board meeting and subsequent meetings with the Board of Supervisors Ad Hoc Committee.

OWTS Manual Summary

A summary of each of the sections of the revised OWTS Manual.

Full Version (PDF: 7.55 MB)

Accessible version in a single file with no strikethroughs.

Revised Sections

Alternate version divided into sections with strikethroughs.

Current OWTS Manual – September 22, 2016

The OWTS Manual that is currently in effect and will be replaced.

Current Manual (PDF: 9.7 MB)

Revision Milestones & Community Feedback

  • February 2018: Permit Sonoma drafted the proposed revision of the OWTS Manual to meet State requirements, a subcommittee of the Land Use Advisory Panel reviewed the revisions.
  • February 22, 2018: Official public comment started on the publicly released Revised Manual.
  • March 30, 2018: Permit Sonoma hosted a public workshop to discuss the revised OWTS Manual.
  • May 22, 2018: Sonoma County Board of Supervisors received an informational only update regarding proposed OWTS Manual. After community testimony about potential regulatory and financial burdens resulting from the proposed manual, the Board postponed acceptance of the draft for six months so Board Members and staff can further engage the community and provide revisions to the Board by November 2018.
  • June 2018 - August 2018: Permit Sonoma and Board of Supervisors OWTS Ad Hoc Committee meet to discuss potential revisions. Permit Sonoma prepares proposed revision and educational materials including flowcharts and frequently asked questions.
  • August 31, 2018: Public release of Proposed OWTS Manual, which incorporates feedback from public and OWTS Ad Hoc Committee. Significant changes to the manual since the February 2018 version include updated septic system evaluation policy for building permits, expanded list of variances, and elaborates on the criteria and process to enroll alternative and experimental systems.
  • August 2018 - October 2018: Public feedback on proposed OWTS Manual via online survey and 5 community meetings.
  • November 2018: Board of Supervisors considers acceptance of proposed OWTS Manual.

Summary of Main Revisions

The main differences from the County’s current septic system policy in the proposed manual include:

  • Permit Types. There are three types of permits: new, replacement and repair. New OWTS serve undeveloped properties. Replacement OWTS are for tank replacements and/or dispersal system replacements for developed sites (previously known as a voluntary repair). Repair OWTS allow for the relatively minor work: distribution box, valves, etc.
  • Classifications. Class I, II and III classifications would be replaced with references to either Code Compliant or Legal Non-Conforming systems
  • Code Compliant OWTS means a system that is in conformance with this OWTS Manual, or meets the intent of the standards by proposing mitigation measures that are equal to the standards.  A Code Complaint OWTS can be new or existing. 
  • Variances. Code compliant does not mean that you need a new system or that you meet each and every standard. The County allows variances from the standards provided sufficient mitigation is provided. The proposed policy allows more variance issues and more mitigation measures.
  • Voluntary Repairs. Previous voluntary repairs regulations would be eliminated. Typical voluntary repairs include replacing dispersal systems. A new or replacement dispersal system must meet a two (2) foot separation to groundwater, have adequate soil type and depth, and be designed by an appropriately licensed professional defined as qualified consultants in the State Business and Professions Code.
  • Building Permits. Prior policies required a septic evaluation for most building permits. The proposed policy requires a septic system evaluation or possibly a new code compliant system only when the project increases wastewater flow and/or strength to the existing system. The proposed policies also evaluates the location of the proposed building/construction relative to the septic system and reserve area. The intent is to avoid physical impacts to the septic system. In certain cases, reserve replacement areas will be evaluated or required.
  • Alternative & Experimental Systems. The proposed policy expands the list of currently approved and conditionally acceptable experimental and/or alternative systems and elaborates on the criteria and process to enroll various innovative technology/systems into either the experimental system program and/or the alternative system program.
  • Financial Hardship. The propose policy creates financial hardship provisions, that if meet, would exempt a client from the standards.  The septic system would need to comply with the standards to maximum extent feasible.
  • Waiver. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a revised Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements that now includes OWTS that cannot meet the two (2) foot separation to groundwater. If the system cannot meet the two (2) foot separation standard, the client would have to apply to the NCRWQCB for their wavier.  Local agencies cannot waive this standard according to the State’s OWTS Policy, but will act as the technical lead for review.

Contact Information

Maggie Fleming
Communications Manager
Permit and Resource Management Department
County of Sonoma
Contact us by Phone

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OWTS FAQs

View OWTS Frequently Asked Questions

frequently asked questions FAQ

Find answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to the County’s septic system program and proposed updates to septic policy.