YUCCA VALLEY — Residents, local government leaders and business owners this week got a glimpse of how the community will be affected by the state’s septic prohibition come 2016.
Yucca Valley hosted the California Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Colorado River region regular meeting Thursday at the Community Center.
During the nearly four-hour session, state water board representatives discussed the area’s May 19, 2016, septic prohibition deadline.
Some residents, like Richard Harlan of Yucca Valley, are well aware of the impending mandate, which sets a deadline for when most households can no longer use their septic systems.
“I think some people think that if they don’t vote for the assessment district, all of this will go away like a bad dream,” Harlan said. “It’s not gonna go away if we don’t vote for it and it’s not gonna go away if we pump our septic systems more often.”
The first wave of prohibition will take place in May 2016, affecting homes and structures in the first phase of Hi-Desert Water District’s sewer plan boundaries. Additional areas farther north and west of Phase One will be given later dates to abandon their septic systems.
The State Water Resources Control Board’s sub-executive director, Jose Angel, said the state will enforce its prohibition on a case-by-case basis. If investigators find that a property has failed to connect to the sewer system once it’s in place, the property owner will be issued a notice of warning and enforcement will escalate from there.
Angel said Yucca Valley has been talking about building a sewer system since the late 1970s. More than 30 years later, Yucca Valley is finally inching toward a sewer system, but at a much higher cost.
“In 1973, it was a $10 million problem. Now it’s a $120 million problem,” Angel said.
The elephant in the room was the sewer’s target operational date. Hi-Desert Water District is contracting with Atkins North America to design Phase One of the sewer project. HDWD expects the wastewater system to be up and running by May 2016, but what if it isn’t?
Board to new businesses: “Buyer beware”
It’s an uncertainty that’s heavily affecting new development in town, especially the new senior housing complex.
The state water board gave permission for the town to build the apartment complex using a septic system, but the board imposed an order, stipulating the apartments must be connected to a sewer system by May 19, 2016, or have a package treatment plant in place if the sewer is not complete by that date.
Angel called the policy a “buyer beware” regulation on new growth.
Town Manager Mark Nuaimi addressed the board, saying the state’s order on the senior housing project unfairly targets new development for enforcement.
Existing commercial or multi-family properties have not been given state orders to firmly comply with the May 2016 mandate, but new developments, like the senior housing project, have.
He said developers are unclear about how to proceed with handling wastewater treatment because of the costs and risks, costing Yucca Valley millions in retail dollars lost to low desert businesses.
Nuaimi said the town needs development to help pay for the sewer system.
“This Basin exports over $300 million of retail down the hill,” Nuaimi told the board.
Byron Ely, vice president of construction for National Community Rennaissance, or CORE, the developers of the senior housing project, asked the board to clarify its position on septic discharge. The board was befuddled by the question, signaling a disconnect between board members and regulators.
Water Quality Control Board member Thomas Davis said the issue at hand is “black and white,” but Ely and Nuaimi said the regulations are clear as mud.
As a nonprofit developer relying on several time-sensitive funding sources, CORE can install hookups to the future septic system, but risk having to pay to install a costly package treatment plant if no sewer is in place by May 2016. If a package treatment plant is installed, it’s unclear whether the system will be sufficient to meet state discharge standards for years to come.
Ely’s concerns were pertinent not only to the business world, but residents throughout town.
“It’s vitally important for us to come away with some certainty,” Ely told the board.