On Site Wastewater Treatment Systems (Septic Systems)


Onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) are useful and necessary structures that allow habitation at locations that are removed from centralized wastewater treatment systems. When properly sited, designed, operated, and maintained, OWTS treat domestic wastewater to reduce its polluting impact on the environment and most importantly protect public health. Estimates for the number of installations of OWTS in California at the time of this Policy are that more than 1.2 million systems are installed and operating. The vast majority of these are functioning in a satisfactory manner and meeting their intended purpose. However there have been occasions in California where OWTS for a varied list of reasons have not satisfactorily protected either water quality or public health. Some instances of these failures are related to the OWTS not being able to adequately treat and dispose of waste as a result of poor design or improper site conditions. Others have occurred where the systems are operating as designed but their densities are such that the combined effluent resulting from multiple systems is more than can be assimilated into the environment. From these failures we must learn how to improve our usage of OWTS and prevent such failures from happening again. As California's population continues to grow, and we see both increased rural housing densities and the building of residences and other structures in more varied terrain than we ever have before, we increase the risks of causing environmental damage and creating public health risks from the use of OWTS. What may have been effective in the past may not continue to be as conditions and circumstances surrounding particular locations change. So necessarily more scrutiny of our installation of OWTS is demanded of all those involved, while maintaining an appropriate balance of only the necessary requirements so that the use of OWTS remains viable.

OWTS Policy Information

The State Board adopted the OWTS Policy establishing statewide standards for septic systems. Local agencies may submit management programs for approval, and upon approval then manage the installation of new and replacement OWTS under that program. Local Agency Management Programs (LAMP) provide an alternate method to protect water quality and public health. A LAMP requires that a local agency implement a Water Quality Assessment Program to evaluate the impact of OWTS discharges, and assess the extent to which groundwater and local surface water quality may be adversely impacted. Once a LAMP is approved all future OWTS decisions will be governed by the LAMP until it is modified, withdrawn, or revoked.

Local Agencies Proposed LAMP received date Comment letter date(s) Final proposed LAMP received date Water Board LAMP approval date Link (Water Board Approved LAMP)
San Diego County     02/24/2015 04/29/2015 Local Agency Management Program
Imperial County     11/20/2015 06/30/2016 Local Agency Management Program
Riverside County 02/11/2016   10/5/2016 11/17/2016 Local Agency Management Program
San Bernardino County 10/30/2015 06/23/2016 06/13/2017 07/13/2017 Local Agency Management Program
City of Needles 07/03/2018 07/31/2018 08/03/2018 11/08/2018 Local Agency Management Program

Colorado River Basin Plan, Wastewater (including OWTS)

Prohibition Orders

Contact Information

If you have questions or require additional information about the Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems Policy Implementation Program,
please contact Reggie Tan at (760) 776-8944 or by email Reginald.Tan@waterboards.ca.gov.