How Do We Make the Pending Ordinance for Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems More Green?

Elizabeth Herron

In very short order, (December 2010) the City of Los Angeles through the Bureau of Sanitation is mandated to adopt a revised “Memorandum of Understanding” with the State Water Resources Board regarding the operation of private sewage disposal systems, (known as Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems or OWTS).

This ordinance has to be in place by December 2010.

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Sanitation started the proper public outreach process very late and there is little time for public input and refinement to the proposed City of Los Angeles Ordinance. The new ordinance is tailored to address and eliminate any potential sources of pollution, especially bacteria leaking from OWTS systems into the groundwater.

The current proposed ordinance requires that all OWTS systems be enrolled in an operating permit to be renewed every 3-5 years. The ordinance sets forth that “it is the commitment of the property owner to operate and maintain the OWTS.”

As a part of the permit renewal, the property owner will obtain “a certification that the OWTS is in proper operating condition.”

Also, if your OWTS is failing (no certification available), a complete replacement of the failing OWTS will be required and the following must be done:

  • If a public sanitary sewer is available within 200 ft. of the property dwelling, the owner will be required to connect to the public sewer in lieu of constructing a new OWTS.
  • If a public sanitary sewer is not available within 200 ft. of the property, the owner will be allowed to construct a new OWTS if it is not in a high risk area or an advanced treatment OWTS if it is in a high risk area. (“High risk” is usually defined in part as being if the OWTS is within 900 ft. of a water course.)

Onsite Water retention incentives are essential to combat climate change! What do we suggest to add to the ordinance?

The proposed ordinance should give property owners incentives (similar to Photovoltaic solar collection rebates and incentives) to install gray-water and rainwater collection systems such as:

  • Property owners with OWTS systems who install a gray-water system or a rain barrel system (for collecting rainwater) exceeding 100 gal. should be given a fee waiver for the certification process required every 3-5 years through the Bureau of Sanitation (inspection/certification fees forgiven). 
  • Furthermore, a credit should to be granted to the property owner for services required by an outside consultant to verify the proper operation of the OWTS, on the DWP water bill (within a reasonable cost).

Since this ordinance has been mandated by the state primarily to protect our ground water and runoff water, all efforts should be made to enable the property owner to afford “first costs” associated with on site water retention systems.

This ordinance presents a great opportunity to draft climate change legislation!

Water conservation incentives are extremely important in our state. Retaining onsite water is a huge part of combating dwindling water resources in our semi-arid environment.

Gray is green!!

If you agree please contact: 

Mr. Hyginus Mmeje
City of Los Angeles, Bureau of Sanitation
Waste Water Engineering Services Division
2724 Media Center Dr.
Los Angeles, Ca. 90065
Phone: (323-342-624)
Fax: (323-342-6210)


Elizabeth Herron, Architect
935 W. Ave 37
Los Angeles, Ca. 90065


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