By Bruce McPherson, County Supervisor 5th District
When buying a home — or even remodeling or building an addition, one of the last things you want to have to deal with is a septic system. But, if you’re in San Lorenzo Valley, it should be one of the first things to take into consideration.
The County has established standards for septic systems to ensure ongoing reliability for the homeowner and to protect public health and the environment. The Environmental Health Services is the place you learn about those standards — and hopefully don’t have an unpleasant surprise.
The San Lorenzo Valley, where almost all homes have septic systems for wastewater disposal, also has some of the most challenging conditions for septic systems — small parcels, steep slopes, poor soils, high groundwater, geologic concerns and proximity to streams and waterways. (This is also true for parts of Bonny Doon, Aptos and rural Watsonville.)
If you’re purchasing undeveloped property, be savvy and do your homework. I can’t tell you how many visits/calls to my office has received from people who bought property at an online auction or from County tax sales, only to learn that the property is unbuildable.
When purchasing a rural property, it is important to know those constraints, which could affect or limit future use or expansion of the property. To save yourself some grief, prior to the close of escrow, check with Environmental Health Services records and history on the property and septic system.
Check with the Planning Department for red tags. Check with Environmental Planning for grading or other code violations.
If you’re developing or building an addition, request a site evaluation from the Environmental Health Services and request a consultation and site visit with Environmental Planning. A passing pumper report during the summer may not reveal the potential for septic problems to occur in the winter.
Your Realtor, the seller and neighbor will provide you a lot of good information. But don’t forget to check with the County as well. In the end, you many find yourself spending additional costs on development such as a retaining wall for stability, consultants and an alternative septic system to address high ground water or other environmental challenges.