Liquid Waste Program

An Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) generally referred to as a septic system, is used to collect, treat and dispose of wastewater from residential and commercial structures that do not have access to a public sewer system. Wastewater from an OWTS may contain a variety of contaminants including harmful bacteria, viruses, nitrates as well as chemical and pharmaceutical compounds. When properly sited, designed, installed, operated and maintained, an OWTS will effectively reduce the impact of the wastewater on the environment and most importantly protect public health.

In California, overall authority of OWTS lies with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). In June 2012, the SWRCB adopted the Water Quality Control Policy for the Siting, Design, Operation and Maintenance of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems. This Policy became effective in May 2013 and for the first time established a statewide, risk-based tiered approach for the regulation and management of OWTS. The tiered approach of the State Policy establishes minimum standards for new and replacement OWTS. However, it also allows local agencies to develop customized programs, referred to as a Local Agency Management Program or LAMP, that address conditions specific to that jurisdiction.

Working with a number of stakeholders and interested parties, EHS developed a LAMP and implementing regulations that were approved by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in January 2015. The Santa Barbara County LAMP received final approval by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in November 2015 and became fully effective January 1, 2016. A link to the LAMP and the implementing regulations in the Santa Barbara County Code can be found under the Resources column on this page.

Santa Barbara County's Local Agency Management Program is comprehensive in scope that includes permit, inspection and reporting elements. A permit issued by EHS is required for the construction of new OWTS as well as the repair, modification or abandonment of existing systems. Inspection and approval of all work by EHS is required prior to backfilling any components or putting the system into service.

Once in use, OWTS require regular maintenance to ensure that they are operating properly. With the exception of those systems that require supplemental treatment, there is no mandatory maintenance requirement. However, when an OWTS is serviced, the technician providing the service is required to inspect the system and send a written report to EHS detailing the findings of the inspection. If the inspection finds any deficiencies, the owner is sent a notice directing that they make appropriate repairs.

Supplemental treatment is an OWTS that uses engineered designs and/or technology to further treat effluent to reduce contaminants. The use of supplemental treatment is required when using shallow drip dispersal fields and, in most circumstances, when seepage pits are used. Supplemental treatment is also required in Special Problems Areas where the use of conventional onsite sewage systems poses an exceptional risk to the public health. In order to ensure that the system is operating properly, periodic inspection, maintenance and reporting is necessary and a renewable operating permit issued by EHS is required when supplemental treatment is used.