Many people who move here from areas that are served by sewers are surprised to find that Stinson Beach has individual onsite wastewater disposal systems (septic systems). Water District employees are asked frequently why septic systems are used, why we don't have a sewer and treatment facility, and why their systems require monitoring. The simple answer is that through the process of community meetings and a bond vote in a special election, the residents of Stinson Beach rejected over 10 different sewer plans and chose the alternative of onsite systems.

The issue of a sewer was first raised by a June 1961 directive of the Marin County Board of Supervisors recognizing the potential health hazard of failing septic systems in both Stinson Beach and Bolinas which were contributing to the pollution of Bolinas Lagoon. At that time many of the septic systems in the area were little more than cesspools. With the expected build out projected by the 1961 Bolinas/Stinson Beach Master Plan of 22,000 residents around Bolinas Lagoon, it was felt by the County Health Department, that the best solution to the problem would be a centrally located and publicly owned sewage collection and treatment system. Shortly thereafter, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board (SFRWQCB) urged investigation of plans and costs for sewerage facilities for the area.

As a result, the Stinson Beach County Water District (SBCWD) was formed in November 1962 to deal with these septic issues. It did not function as a water supplier until 1974 when the Stinson Beach Water Company was sold to the district by then owner George Leonard.

Between the 1965 authorization by the Board of Supervisors for a sewerage study and 1974, 10 separate sewer studies were undertaken. All were rejected for many different reasons including excessive cost, potential for inducing population growth and density, failure to recognize environmental concerns, location and reliability of the projects. One project was rejected because it planned a submarine crossing of the San Andreas Fault zone; another because the projected cost exceeded the entire assessed value of the town's property. Finally, a sewer plan went to a bond election, and was defeated 205 to 146 by the voters of Stinson Beach in 1974. Studies were also completed during this time documenting the pollution of the lagoon as well as the degrading of other beneficial water uses, and the SFRWQCB in 1973 adopted a resolution prohibiting any further construction of septic systems and prohibiting use of existing systems after 1977.

During that period of time, a number of changes occurred that made a plan for individual on-site wastewater disposal systems more likely to meet the approval of governmental agencies: The 1961 Master Plan was repealed and replaced with the existing Countywide Plan calling for a much reduced population density around the lagoon; Marin County adopted the 18.06 code requiring more stringent ground water and percolation rate requirements for on site systems; and the technology of septic systems had advanced.

In 1975 the SBCWD embarked upon an exhaustive two year study by Eutek Engineering. The study analyzed all sewage treatment alternatives then available and conducted a parcel by parcel survey of groundwater depth, failed systems, and potential costs. The study determined that the most cost effective alternative was individual onsite systems and developed a feasible basis for their continued use. It also developed a mitigation process for failing systems and a timetable for continuing inspection. After much discussion, revision of procedures, and numerous conditions which have resulted in the program now in existence, SFRWQCB agreed to allow Stinson Beach to upgrade and maintain onsite systems, and allowed the resumption of building new septic systems.

Senate Bill 1902 was passed by the legislature on September 13, 1976 which made it possible to form a management District for the operation and maintenance of onsite wastewater disposal systems. This authority is codified in the California Water Code Sections 31145-31149. After the District adopted an acceptable set of rules and regulations, on January 17, 1978, the SFRWQCB passed Resolution 78-01 to allow for the continued use of onsite systems for the treatment and disposal of wastewater in the community of Stinson Beach under the management of the SBCWD.

In 1988, the SBCWD assumed authority from the County of Marin for the permitting of new onsite systems and in 1994 the District Board of Directors under took the task of completely revamping the sixteen year old rules and regulations. The new Wastewater Code (SBCWD Ordinance 1994-01 and revised in 2000 as SBCWD Ordinance No. WW2000-01) eliminates the relaxed repair code, formalizes design standards for sand filters, requires the installation of a system that meets current code if "new construction" is proposed for the property.

Since the inception of the Onsite Wastewater Management Program (OSWMP), the SBCWD has introduced special systems to the Bay Area that help solve depth to groundwater and poor percolation rate problems. These systems, first used in Stinson Beach are being used throughout the county. Stinson Beach is considered to be a model for other communities throughout the United States for onsite system management.

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