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Well and Septic

Topics

General Information | Remodeling - General | Remodeling - Findings Reports/Field Clearances
Remodeling - Best Available System | Graywater

 

General Information

Question Can I still do a dry weather test on my well?
Answer

PRMD has extended dry weather testing of deep (greater than 50 feet) water wells to October 31, 2014.


For springs and shallow (less than 50 feet deep) water wells, the test close date was October 1, 2014.

Question I want to contact the Environmental Health Specialist that covers my area of the County.  How do I determine the correct staff member?
Answer

The County is divided into districts which are shown on our PDF Document Well & Septic Environmental Health Specialist Districts map.  This map also lists which staff members are assigned to each district.  Once you determine the staff name for your area, you can find their contact information on our PRMD Employee list page.

Question I lost my self-monitoring form, how can I obtain a new one?
Answer

You may request a new form from the Well & Septic Monitoring Program Senior Office Assistant at 707-565-2658 or you may print a blank form here,PDF Document Generic Blank Self Monitoring Form. Detailed instructions for filling out self monitoring forms are available on Form PDF Document WLS-014.

Question Are there any existing well or septic records about my property?
Answer

Files are retained in the Records area at PRMD and can be accessed during Records Hours.  All files are arranged by street address. We have septic records from the early 1960's to the present and well records from the early 1970's to the present. In some rare instances we have records from earlier dates. Well logs are deemed confidential by State Law and can only be viewed by the property owner or a consultant working on a contamination clean-up plan.

Question What type of permits require clearance from PRMD's Well and Septic Section?
Answer

The following permits require a Well and Septic Clearance:

• All building permits that require a plan check
• Any repair or remodel to a structure that is over $10,000 in permit valuation
• Any building permit that may impact the septic system
• Grading permits
• Pool/Spa permits

Question How do I get my water tested?
Answer

The Public Health Division of the Health Services Department can provide this service in their testing lab, located at 3313 Chanate Road, Santa Rosa. You can contact them by phone at (707) 565-4711. They will furnish a sterilized bottle and instructions for taking water samples. This lab tests for enteric bacteria, namely coliforms and fecal coliforms in water. Other state approved private labs can be located in the telephone book's yellow pages under the heading "Laboratories - Testing".

Question What is needed for a Well and Septic Clearance?
Answer

You must submit 2 floor plans for proposed structures and 2 sets of sites plans showing the location of the septic system, well and all other structures. This would include houses, outbuildings, driveways, pools, decks, etc. If the clearance is for an existing structure, your plans must show the existing floor plan and what changes/additions will be done.

Question What is a Pre-Perc?
Answer

This is an on-site evaluation with a PRMD Environmental Health Specialist and a septic consultant. The purpose is to determine site suitability for a septic system. A backhoe or excavator with an operator must be present at the time of the pre-perc. The type of Perc Test required will be determined at this time.

Question What is a Perc Test?
Answer

This test determines the soil's capability to absorb liquid over a specific period of time. This allows a determination to be made regarding the size and type of septic system that will be required. The test must be certified by a Registered Civil Engineer or a Registered Environmental Health Specialist. Consultants who provide these services can be located in the telephone book's yellow pages under the heading "Septic Tanks and Systems Consultants".

Question What is a Wet-Weather Perc Test?
Answer

A Wet-Weather Perc Test is required on sites with expansive clay soils. This test is conducted during a specific time frame in the wet-weather season. The time frame begins after rainfall has reached a minimum of 50% of annual average. This occurs during the first quarter of each calendar year if there is sufficient rainfall.


You may also be required to perform a wet-weather ground water level determination. This is a measurement of the depth to ground water on your lot that is made in a 10 day window following a heavy rainfall during the wet weather testing period.

Question What is Vesting?
Answer

Vesting is a means of guarding against changes in septic regulations before you build. An approved septic design can be vested for 3 years. An installed approved septic system can be vested for 2 years. A Vesting Certificate transfers with the property if it is sold. A septic plan check must be performed to receive a vesting certificate. 2 sets of plans must be submitted. One set will be retained by PRMD and the other set will be returned to the applicant stamped "Vested" at time of approval. Fees will be charged per the current fee schedule.

Question Can a Vesting Certificate be renewed?
Answer

If there have been no changes to the approved septic site or plans and if there have been no changes in the regulations affecting the proposed septic system installation, a vesting certificate can be renewed. This requires a new vesting fee be paid no later than 30 days after the previous vesting certificate expires. A copy of the originally approved plans stamped "Vested" must be submitted with the fee. These plans were part of the original vesting certificate package returned to the applicant at time of approval.

Question What do I need to do to add a Second Unit on my property?
Answer

First, you should verify that a second unit is allowed on the property by the Zoning Code. You may be required to obtain a Zoning Permit. When this has been done, you will need an upgrade of your current septic system or a new septic system. You should retain a septic consultant to assist you with this process. Consultants who provide these services can be located in the telephone book's yellow pages under the heading "Septic Tanks and Systems Consultants".


In addition, if you are in a water scarce area as defined in the Sonoma County General Plan, you will need to do dry weather well yield testing. You can call (707) 565-1900 during regular phone hours and ask to speak with the Area District Specialist in the Well & Septic Section for more information.

Question

How do I get a Findings Report?

Answer

A PRMD Environmental Health Specialist can evaluate your septic system after your septic tank has been pumped. The Environmental Health Specialist can provide you with more information regarding your septic system if they are present when the pumping takes place. If requested they will also inspect the on-site water system and test for bacteriological quality. There is a fee for this service defined in the current fee schedule.

 

Remodeling - General

Question How does this policy effect Waiver Prohibition Areas?
Answer

There are a number of communities subject to waiver prohibitions, with differing restrictions and requirements. However, none of the communities are identified as RWQCB Basin Plan Waiver Prohibition Areas (Section VII Policy on the Control of Water Quality With Respect to On-Site Waste Treatment and Disposal Practices). The following communities are identified as County Waiver Prohibition Areas:


Camp Meeker, Carmet, Rancho del Paradiso, Salmon Creek, Sereno del Mar, Jenner, Monte Rio, Happy Acres, Penngrove/South Cotati, West Petaluma, Russian River Meadows, South Wright Road Area, Thomas Larkin Woods, Westvue Meadows.


In general, PRMD shall not process any waiver requests for new construction on vacant land or to existing structures in Waiver Prohibition Areas that would result in an increase in flow (some of the Waiver Prohibition Areas address only a specific concern and are not a blanket waiver prohibition). All modifications to existing structures shall comply with the PRMD Remodel Policy. The Remodel Policy applies only to existing structures (defined as recent and continuous service previous two years) with no increase in flow. Under the Reutilization and Remodel Policies, justification for issuance of a waiver is required to meet the re-defined Class I standard for systems that service existing structures. Justification for waivers that are approved by PRMD for Major Additions and/or Rebuilds of existing structures are possible in County Waiver Prohibition Areas, provided there is no increase in the strength or volume of wastewater generated.

Question

If I already have a building permit and I want to add to the scope of work, will I be subject
to the new policy or the old policy?

Answer

The revised project will be subject to the new policy.


Example: Under the old policy the percentage of lineal footage of altered wall for a dwelling with a Class III system was 35%. A revised project is proposed to include an additional remodel subject to a B-BLD or <500 square foot addition as well. Under the old policy an office clearance was given based upon a microfilm record of a 1976 permitted septic system and the percentage of remodel was limited to 35%. Under the new policy, a findings report or field clearance would be required for this new remodel or minor addition (Class III system >20 years old).

Question Is Planning Clearance required for a Building Permit under this policy?
Answer

A Planning Clearance is not required for an interior remodel. However, Planning Clearance is required for all rebuilds and additions due to the fact that these rebuild and/or additions may impact required setbacks to property lines, scenic or riparian corridors.

Question Is the square footage measured by using the interior or exterior dimensions for new additions?
Answer

Use the interior dimensions for the determination of square footage of new additions of habitable space. Note that additions may not encroach upon potential reserve expansion area.

Question

Are walls that are removed and replaced to accommodate an Addition counted as wells removed and replaced as a percentage of a Rebuild?

Answer

Yes. Addition(s) that result in the removal and replacement of 50% or more of the exterior lineal footage of existing walls count as a percentage of Rebuild.

Question

How does this Policy relate to the Reutilization Policy?

Answer

The Reutilization Policy remains in effect. The Remodel Policy is intended to clarify the interpretation and implementation of the Reutilization Policy.

 

Remodeling - Findings Reports/Field Clearances

Question

Are Findings Reports/Field Clearances required for Building Permit clearances for structures without plumbing and/or non-habitable space if the septic system serving the parcel is more than 20 years old?

Answer

As is currently the case, if PRMD does not have any record of the septic system on the parcel and a B-BLD permit application for a non habitable space structure is received, a Field Clearance is required to ensure that the structure (e.g. pool, storage building, garage, solar panels) does not adversely impact the primary or potential expansion area. All Well & Septic clearances for any B-BLD permit require proof of a minimum Class III system. However, if adequate septic system permit records do exist, regardless of the age of the system, a Findings Report or Field Clearance is not required for a B-BLD of non-habitable structures. The Remodel Policy for either a Findings Report or Field Clearance for systems older than 20 years applies only to B-BLD habitable space Building Permit clearances only.

Question

What is the difference between a Findings Report and a Field Clearance?

Answer

A Field Clearance requires an inspection by the PRMD District Specialist. A Findings Report may be prepared by a qualified consultant (i.e. Registered Civil Engineer or Registered Environmental Health Specialist) from the private sector.


Field Clearances and Findings Reports both require the following:

  • 2 sets of an accurate site map and floor plans;
  • a layout diagram of the existing system;
  • evaluation of system performance (may include uncovering distribution boxes to insure that the system is functioning adequately);
  • age of system and expected life expectancy;
  • sizing of system;
  • replacement area availability;
  • inspection of all tanks and recent pumpers report (within last 5 years);
  • classification of system (code compliant, Class I or Class III).

A Field Clearance requires the submittal of an application for inspection and the payment of applicable fees. A Field Clearance is required in all cases in which there are no records of the septic system or if the septic system is subject to Code Enforcement. In addition, a Field Clearance is required for all Major Remodels and/or Rebuilds if the system is more than 20 years old.


A Findings Report must include a letter from the consultant, with a wet Stamp of Professional Registration, addressing the condition of the existing system. A Findings Report is acceptable for Minor Additions and/or Remodels if the system is greater than 20 years old and for Major Additions and/or Rebuild if the system less than 20 years old. Note: An Office Clearance is acceptable for Minor Additions and/or Remodels if the system is less than 20 years old and adequate records exist.


Cesspools or systems in a condition of failure will not be adequate to justify clearance for a building permit issuance.

Question

How long are Field Clearances and Findings Reports valid?

Answer

Field Clearances and Findings Reports are valid for 3 years from the date of completion of the service.

Question

Are the requirements for a Findings Report or Field Clearance the same for an Interior Remodel/Minor Addition as they are for a Rebuild/Major Addition?

Answer

No. Although a Findings Report or Field Clearance is acceptable for an Interior Remodel/Minor Addition, a Rebuild/Major Addition requires a Field Clearance with soils evaluation, a “minor” pre-perc), as a component of the Field Clearance process, to determine the Best Available System appropriate for the specific site.

 

Remodeling - Best Available System

Question

What does Best Available System mean?

Answer

All installations should comply with current code requirements for new septic systems , if possible. In case where it is impossible or impractical to adequately upgrade the septic system to current code requirements, given site constraints, the most effective system shall be installed that results in reasonable progress toward improving the quality of the discharge given site conditions. In general, Best Available System means the most effective, economically achievable and state of the art technology currently in use for controlling the pollution that will result in reasonable progress toward improving the discharge to the environment given the site conditions.


There are four classifications of septic systems as follows:

  • Code compliant meets all State and County code requirements without waiver.
  • Class I meets State and County code requirements with waiver for undeveloped parcels.
  • Class I Best Available System with waiver meets County Reutilization and Remodel Policy requirements for developed parcels. A notarized Class I Conditional Statement (WLS-27) is required. If a Non-Standard System or an approved pretreatment unit is a component of a standard system, application to the County’s Operational Permit Program (OPR) is required.
  • Class III is a minimal functioning system consisting of an approved septic tank and leaching area on a developed lot. A notarized Class III Conditional Statement (WLS-29) is required.
Question

Is there a distinction between Best Available System for a Rebuild and a Best Available System required for a Major Addition?

Answer

If the results of the Field Clearance for a Major Addition reveals that the existing in-ground system is functioning adequately, but it may not meet current requirements for depth of soil below trench bottom, the addition of an approved pretreatment system to the existing in-ground system would be allowed (Best Practical System). In the case of a Rebuild, the Best Available System is required, which, in some instances, may require replacement of an existing in-ground system with an above ground system, if warranted, rather than the simple addition of a pretreatment unit to an existing system. A Rebuild is held to a higher standard of septic system upgrade than a Major Addition.

Graywater

Question

What is graywater?

Answer

Graywater is untreated wastewater that has not been contaminated by any toilet discharge.  Graywater includes wastewater from bathtubs, showers, bathroom sinks, clothes washing machines and laundry sinks.  It does not include wastewater from kitchen sinks, dishwashers, photo lab sinks or laundry water from soiled diapers.

Question

What is a graywater system?

Answer

Graywater systems are onsite wastewater systems that use graywater for subsurface landscape irrigation through the use of mulch basins, disposal trenches or subsurface drip irrigation fields. 

Question

Are there regulations for the use of graywater?

Answer

The regulations for the design, construction and use of graywater systems can be found in Chapter 16 of the California Plumbing Code (CPC).  A copy of these regulations can be found in the Well and Septic area of this website.

Question Who regulates the use of graywater in Sonoma County?
Answer

The County of Sonoma Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) has been delegated the authority to regulate graywater systems in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). PRMD does not regulate graywater systems in the incorporated cities in Sonoma County. These cities can implement a program of their own that meets or exceeds the requirements of the CPC with approval from the RWQCB. Questions regarding graywater systems within an incorporated city should go directly to that city.

Question

Can I allow my graywater to discharge to the ground surface?

Answer

Due to the potential for high levels of bacteria and viruses in graywater, graywater must be used in a way that eliminates potential human contact or the creation of nuisances. The regulations for graywater systems allows for subsurface irrigation only, although graywater can be discharged to the ground surface in a mulch basin as long as it remains covered with at least two inches of mulch, rock or soil.

Question

Can I use graywater for other purposes such as flushing toilets?

Answer

The CPC allows graywater to be used for flushing toilets but the graywater must meet the same regulations in place for the use of recycled water (Title 22) with respect to treatment, permitting, inspection and cross connection control. 

Question

Do I need a permit to install a graywater system?

Answer

The CPC exempts graywater systems that collect graywater from a clothes washer only and where no modifications to the plumbing system are required or pumps are used in the graywater system from construction permits but the system must still meet the design and construction standards found in the regulations. All other graywater systems require a construction permit. Plans for graywater systems must be submitted to PRMD or the authorized permitting agency for review and approval of the graywater design. Once the design is approved, a construction permit must be obtained to install the graywater system and allow for inspection by the permitting agency.

Question

Do I need to contact any other agencies for the installation of a graywater system?

Answer

You need to contact your local building department to discuss plumbing, venting and electrical requirements as needed for either new construction or the retrofit of an existing structure where a graywater system is proposed. In addition, you need to contact your local water purveyor to discuss the need for the installation of a backflow protection device at the water meter.

Question

What kind of plants can I irrigate with graywater?

Answer

Graywater can be used to irrigate fruit trees, ornamental trees, shrubs, groundcover and lawns. Graywater should not be used in vegetable gardens where the food is a root crop or touches the ground surface. Be aware that soaps and detergents can contain a variety of chemicals to aid in cleaning that may be harmful to your plants. Please contact your local landscape specialist for more information.

Question

Where can I find more information on graywater?

Answer

Additional information regarding graywater and onsite wastewater systems is available on the PRMD website. PRMD is currently in the process of developing new guidelines for the use of graywater to address the revisions to the CPC and will post these when available.

   

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Although every effort is made to provide complete and accurate information on this website, users are advised to contact appropriate PRMD staff before making project decisions. This may involve contacting more than one section within PRMD (e.g. Building, Plan Check, Zoning, Well & Septic, etc.), since each section implements specific codes or ordinances which may affect your project.
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