Sonoma County secured $500,000 in state grant money mid-April to fund a study exploring alternative wastewater disposal options for the Monte Rio and Villa Grande communities along the lower Russian River, according to an April 19 press release from the California State Water Resources Control Board.
The California State Water Resources Control Board approved the funding on April 14 for the feasibility study anticipated to start this spring and take about two years to complete, the press release said. The county plans to kick off community meetings at the outset of the project so communities can stay informed and share feedback on the options on the table.
“The local community, Sonoma County and the Regional Water Board have been exploring solutions for addressing aging septic systems in lower Russian River communities for more than 20 years,” North Coast Water Board Executive Officer Matthias St. John said in the state water board’s announcement.
Identified as disadvantaged communities, Monte Rio and Villa Grande’s septic systems are breaking down, complicated by the steep landscape, “small lot-size and inadequate separation from surface or groundwater,” the press release said.
Overall, the project aims to make upgrading wastewater treatment systems easier so the communities can successfully meet new “Total Maximum Daily Load” (TMDL) requirements to lower fecal pollution in the lower Russian River Watershed, the press release said.
The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a TMDL Action Plan in August 2019 in response to pathogens stemming from individual onsite wastewater treatment systems and other sources that impair the watershed, according to the county website’s profile on the Lower Russian River Wastewater Citizens Advisory Group (the CAG).
Guerneville, Rio Nido, Camp Meeker, Jenner, Hacienda and Cazadero are among the other areas held to the TMDL Action Plan’s new onsite wastewater treatment system requirements, in addition to Monte Rio and Villa Grande, per the county website.
Getting onsite wastewater treatment systems up to standard can be amazingly expensive, though, which is why the study will examine so many potential solutions, according to Alisha O’Loughlin, the county’s Lower Russian River ombudsman.
O’Loughlin said the cost for an individual to upgrade is highly site-specific, depending on their current system and how close they are to the river or an impacted waterway, but supplemental treatment can cost $50,000 or higher to bring a system up to code.
“Every situation is very different,” she said. “That’s not going to be the case for everyone, but it will be the case for some.”
O’Loughlin said the county is working with the state to develop a grant and “mini loan” program to support individual homeowners with individual…