Monday, June 14, 2010

The County's Worst-Case-Scenario in Los Osos, is Also a VERY Real Scenario

TO: Bruce Gibson, District Two Supervisor, SLO County
DATE: 6/14/10

Dear Supervisor Gibson,

Three years ago, I published a story that shows how a 2004 Regional Water Quality Control Board document, "Item 19," that discusses the various "alternatives" available in Los Osos, reads:

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[All bolding mine]
Require Alternative Waste Disposal Units – The Regional Board could (through General Waste Discharge Requirements, Cleanup and Abatement Orders, or Cease and Desist Orders) require use of alternative waste disposal units.

Advanced treatment units (for improved effluent quality), portable toilets and/or composting toilets (for reduced discharges, as discussed in previous section regarding prohibiting black water discharges) could be required. Such units could be required for existing discharges using Cleanup and Abatement or Cease and Desist Orders, or for new discharges using General Waste Discharge Requirements.

Pros: For those existing discharges where such alternatives are implemented, water quality improvement will occur. If General Waste Discharge Requirements are adopted by the Regional Board which authorize development of vacant lots, then this method may also provide benefits similar to those described under the 'Rescinding Resolution No. 83-13' section above.

Cons: Widespread implementation of this alternative would result in more costly waste treatment and less effective water quality protection than that offered by the community sewer. However, it remains one of the few alternatives, which can result in water quality improvement and is not subject to Coastal Commission approval. The previous discussion about the questionable availability of this huge number of outhouses, would also apply to availability of other types of alternative treatment methods.
- - -

Notice how their "cons" have nothing to do with things like feasibility and nuisance, instead it says things like, "Widespread implementation of this alternative would result in more costly waste treatment."

That quote tells me two things: 1) Widespread implementation of this alternative is possible, and 2) "would result in more costly waste treatment," is not even close to being accurate, unless they mean by the reluctant few that hold out for a community sewer system, because that would "result in MUCH more costly waste treatment"... for THOSE people. And, even if composting toilets WERE more costly, which they are not (not even close) the cost of "the few alternatives, which can result in water quality improvement" is entirely up to the property owner.

Considering the RWQCB all but raves about composting toilets, and even considered "requiring" them in Los Osos, it seems like it's just a matter of time before a property owner in the Prohibition Zone installs an "advanced" composting toilet system, and, therefore will not need to hook up to the sewer pipe in front of their property, and then get out of paying the sewer assessment by easily arguing "no benefit, no assessment."

And if just ONE property owner in Los Osos does that, eventually ALL property owners in the Prohibition Zone will be economically forced to do the exact same thing, unless they want to spend something like $5,000/month just to flush with water.

Furthermore, the water savings associated with composting toilets is immense, and, as you know, the overdraft of the groundwater in Los Osos is a HUGE problem.

Additionally, at this link: reads:

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"What are the advantages to the community?

If a community were to embrace the total use of composting toilets and appropriate greywater systems, it would have no sewage charges, sewage pipe installations and maintenance costs.

The community would also have greatly reduced water costs

What are the advantages to the environment?

The widescale use of composting toilets would be very beneficial to the environment. Reduced water use would minimise storage and piping impacts, elimination of sewage would reduce nutrient flows into river and oceans and subsequent rejuvenation of marine systems.

Cities could become fertilizer factories instead of nutrient sinks, reducing environmental problems associated with manufacture of fertilisers.

Don't They Smell?

A correctly installed and operating composting toilet will not smell at all because there is a positive suction of air through the toilet at all times. In fact, there should be less smell than a conventional toilet."
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Here's my question: Why is the county spending so much time and money on a community sewer for Los Osos, when, almost certainly, it's going to be a community of composting toilets, just like the RWQCB considered "requiring" in Los Osos due to all of the excellent benefits associated with the "advanced" units they mention in Item 19?

Interestingly, the last time I was in (SLO County Public Works Director) Paavo Ogren's office, about two years ago, I made all of this information available to him, but he just ignored it entirely... entirely. He never mentioned it again, at the same time spending millions (and years) on the design of a sewer system.

I hope that you don't take the same route on this extremely important subject, as Ogren, or, almost certainly, the County's worst-case-scenario will come true: There will be a $180 million sewer system in Los Osos that no one needs to hook up to.

Thank you,

P.S. I personally know people in SLO County that use composting toilets, and they went through proper county channels before they installed them, and the county was o.k. with it. And the people that have composting toilets, rave about them, and the units are "very beneficial to the environment."

P.P.S. I've published this e-mail on my blog


[24 weeks down... 28 to go.]


  • As you can see here I hire (rent in USA speak) portable toilets. However, I own some woodland on which there is a composting toilet my family use when we're camping. You are correct they do not smell and yes, they are VERY environmentally friendly.

    By Blogger loohire, at 3:55 AM, June 15, 2010  

  • No question that Composting toilets are great, but what about the rest of the wastewater?
    Showers, dishes, Rinsing the pasta, etc.
    The Water board says no discharge, zip, nada.
    Sounds to me like you would just end up with a nice green feeling AND a sewer.
    And really, do you think for one second that the RWQCB would just give that a pass, how about requiring daily testing? just like a real WWTF?
    That alone could negate any savings.
    I think you should stick to roasting Pandoras, the shiny new cheaper better faster thing is a horrible failure for Los Osos.

    By Blogger Mike Green, at 11:07 AM, June 15, 2010  

  • Mike Green, the point is no longer to save money but to "stick it to the bear" as it were.

    It is nice if you can do-it-yourself to reconstruct a bathroom or two to accommodate these toilets, but I'd say most can't and would wind up spending a fortune and in the end - limit the sales possibilities of one's house should one want to move in the future.

    By Blogger Sewertoons, at 3:47 PM, June 15, 2010  

  • Best invention ever? Battery powered Macintosh laptop computers that get high speed internet out of the air! BEST... INVENTION... EVERRRR!

    You wouldn't believe where I'm typing this from.

    MG wrote:

    "No question that Composting toilets are great, but what about the rest of the wastewater?"

    That's what your septic tank's for.

    Apparently, according to reliable sources, even with the recently approved County project, SOME septic tanks in the PZ do not have to be "decommissioned."

    So, if a non-decommissioned septic tank in the PZ is good for the CCC and the RWQCB, and apparently it is, then it's good for a composting toileter.


    "do you think for one second that the RWQCB would just give that a pass, how about requiring daily testing? just like a real WWTF?"

    Los Osos will never know the answer to that question until you do your test case -- the same test case that that extremely knowledgeable SLO County engineer recommended, and that I've been advocating for the past three-plus years.

    The thing is, like I wrote, it's just a matter of time before someone in the PZ does what I suggest, and if the RWQCB STILL wants to go after that person for "improving the water quality" in the most environmentally excellent method imaginable... well, that'd make for a great story, yes?


    "I think you should stick to roasting Pandoras"

    Count on it ; -)

    'toons wrote:

    "but I'd say most..."

    That's the MOST interesting thing about why Los Osos is going to be a community of composting toilets.

    WHO CARES what the "most" think?

    If 95-percent of PZ property owners go to the "ewwwwww, compositing toilets" card, that leaves 5-percent who don't, and that, trust me, will be all it takes until you are eventually economically forced to do the exact same thing.

    By Blogger Ron, at 3:58 PM, June 15, 2010  

  • Dream on Ron, but you are rather hilarious.

    And I don't think that you understand the economics of this at all.

    By Blogger Sewertoons, at 11:51 PM, June 15, 2010  

  • 'toons wrote:

    "And I don't think that you understand the economics of this at all."

    Oh, the irony.

    Then, for the sake of my story, here's what I think Dumb Los Osos should do:

    DON'T do the composting toilet test case, and construct a $180 million sewer system, and HOPE that one, single property owner in the PZ doesn't print out page 6 of Item 19, pop down to Home Depot, pick up a composting toilet, and have it up and working in a weekend.

    Now that I've time-stamped the County's worst-case-scenario to a County Supervisor, that'd be AWESOME for my story... a $180 million sewer system in Los Osos, that no one needs to hook up to.

    Dumb Los Osos.

    By Blogger Ron, at 12:01 PM, June 16, 2010  

  • Ya know, the more I think about it, the more it becomes less of "Los Osos MIGHT be a community of composting toilets," and more, How is it NOT?"

    I can't think of one hurdle -- not one -- that will stop Los Osos from becoming a community of composting toilets.

    What? The RWQCB? Item 19 is THEIR document!

    Plus, they would be going after a PZ property owner for taking the initiative to "improve the water quality," in the most environmentally excellent method out there, using "one of the few alternatives" available, that will likely immediately end the community's groundwater overdraft problem.

    Now, I realize that Los Osos is gun-shy of that agency, and for good reason, but I just can't see them making that argument. Even THEY aren't THAT stupid. They would be laughed at from here to Washington D.C... I'd make sure of it.

    And that leaves SLO County government as the only other hurdle.

    Are they going to make that same laughable argument -- that someone in the PZ, even though they allow it elsewhere in the county, can't take the initiative to "improve water quality" using "one of the few alternatives" available, and is, by far, the most environmentally sensitive method available, AND will save a TON of water?

    Is Bruce Gibson going to say that to Los Osos?

    I REEEELY don't see that happening, either.

    And that's that.

    The ONLY hurdles I foresee that MIGHT slow down Los Osos from becoming a community of composting toilets, are the four stop lights on Los Osos Valley Road, between town, and Home Depot. And, if a PZ resident hits all of those lights on green (and isn't it sweet when that happens), they will encounter ZERO hurdles.

    Oh, and if investing's your thing... you might wanna start buying stock in composting toilets.

    'toons wrote:

    "stick it to the bear"

    Hmmmm... not a whole lot of bears in Los Osos anymore. Maybe the town should consider a name change.

    I recommend "Fábrica del Fertilizante," Spanish for "fertilizer factory."

    Fábrica del Fertilizante... hey, that's got a nice ring to it.

    (Gawd, I love my Mac.)

    By Blogger Ron, at 5:29 PM, June 16, 2010  

  • ... and, oh yeah, if you're a vacant lot owner in the PZ, you might wanna start on some building plans, and if you're a CDOer, you might wanna pop some champagne.

    By Blogger Ron, at 6:09 PM, June 16, 2010  

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