New Laws Require More Sewer Inspections

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Homeowners planning remodels or repairs over $100,000 will have to add a video inspection of their private sewer pipe to their to-do list, under a revised sewer ordinance approved by the City Council Tuesday. It takes effect in August.

To reduce sewer spills from private lines, the city staff began researching ways to press property owners to step up maintenance of the so-called laterals that transfer waste from a home’s plumbing to the main public sewer pipe.

After incorporating revisions based on input from realtors, plumbers and residents, the City approved a final ordinance this week.

A wider array of situations will now require that homeowners clean and video inspect their private laterals, using a state-qualified plumber following specified guidelines, and provide an inspection report to the city. City staff has created an administrative guide to help homeowners navigate the new rules.

Previously, remodels, which were more narrowly defined, did trigger a video inspection, but did not require either cleaning or a report. Generally, city officials had the discretion to request inspections, repairs or corrections as they saw fit, on a case-by-case basis.

Resident Wayne Baglin, a member of the Laguna Beach Board of Realtors, lauded the new ordinance. Whereas previous iterations had called for private pipe inspections at the point of sale, a measure realtors vociferously opposed, the revised program “hits all of the community evenly” and “gets people to be responsible,” he said.

“I can attest that this program does work,” said plumber Gary Link, who works in Costa Mesa where a similar video inspection program is in place and is effective.

Going forward, the following scenarios will trigger the new requirements for property owners: a sewer spill from their pipe; a change of use, such as from residential to commercial; the repair or replacement of any part of the pipe; a significant repair to the public sewer line to which the private pipe is attached; a city inspection revealing that the private pipe is not functioning properly; or a planned remodel. In this last case, “remodel” refers to all construction projects that require a building permit and that either: involve a bathroom, kitchen or laundry facility; or involve installation of additional plumbing that produces a material increase in sewage; or involve work costing over $100,000.

Additional revisions to the code update definitions to reflect current terminology, place greater pipe maintenance responsibility and liability on residents, fine-tune rules on backflow prevention devices and allow restaurants to use an alternate grease control device.

Typical inspection and cleaning costs range between $200 and $450, while private lateral repairs run from $1,600 to $3,000, a water quality analyst reported at a previous Council meeting.

To bolster pipe maintenance, the City Council previously approved a pilot program to video inspect city sewer lines and identify faulty private pipes in the process; an incentive to match up to $1,600 in pipe repair/replacement costs for property owners; a $50 reward for plumbers who notify the city of private repairs that dislodge roots into the public pipe; and a public education program.

The Council also asked staff to look into endorsing a warranty program provided by Utility Service Providers, Inc. and to investigate the best way to assist homeowners who can’t afford repair costs, such as a hardship loan program.

Roger Butow of Clean Water Now claimed that an ongoing lawsuit filed against the city by California River Watch deserves credit for the city’s actions to prevent sewer spills. He said the video inspection of sewer laterals “is literally on the laundry list of the litigation demands for remedy filed last June.”

Even so, the City Council began investigating changes to the rules on video inspection, among other code revisions, as early as September 2013. “The River Watch lawsuit has not contributed to efforts by the city to improve its sewer system,” City Manager John Pietig wrote in an e-mail when reached for comment earlier this week.

In the last decade, the city spent $28 million to improve the city’s sewer collection system, which has reduced spills that routinely occurred two to three times a week to one in the last three months, David Shissler, the city’s water quality director, confirmed Tuesday.

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  1. Sewage Spill Overflows (SSO) constitute not only a serious threat to human health at the place where they occur. For many of significant size, their eventual Points of Discharge (POD), in this case the Pacific Ocean, constitute a hazard to recreational users at the beach but also impair marine life as well.
    Fragile near-tidal ecosystems often exhibit mass die-offs as both the Bluebird Pump Station & Diamond Street/PCH monolithic SSOs did a few years back.
    The CM Pietig’s amusing allegation, that the Cal River Watch suit filed in June of 2014 had no bearing, the City looked at this 1 year prior in 2013, provokes a simple question: Since these SSOs are so important, as LBCC Dicterow always exclaims public health and safety so important (his #1 priority each budget cycle) why did it take 2 years for this critical ordinance?
    The public deserves to know that this is, in CLEAN WATER NOW’s estimation, an attempt to lessen or lower the eventual damages awarded to CRW.
    We believe that they’ll prevail, and to repeat it was CWN that advised CRW to add those City-wide noxious (H2s) odors to their pleading. We did that back in January, at our one & only pow wow with their staff attorneys.
    Next the City will be proclaiming that they were ALREADY working on that too….Which is the whole point, they always, like a cheating or abusive spouse, say “We’re working on correcting that behavior.”

    Never mistake activity (especially gum flapping by bureaucrats in a CYA mode) for achievement. The City boasted, declared itself a ZERO TOLERANCE town 15 years ago and has yet to accomplish it.

    Roger E. Bütow Founder & Executive Officer CLEAN WATER NOW (est. 1998)

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