Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s Department of Environmental Health is seeking a balance between streamlining permitting of composting toilets and continuing to protect public health and the environment.
The department asked for and got authorization to revise its Experimental Disposal System Program at the Aug. 21 Board of Supervisors meeting.
Since 1984, the county has permitted installation of alternative disposal systems such as composting toilets and gray water systems to treat single family residential waste. They’re allowed on residential properties that have onsite wastewater treatment systems.
There is public interest in composting toilets but few requests to permit them. According to a report on updating the county’s program, “The Division of Environmental Health Land Use Team frequently receives inquiries about (composting toilets), but rarely receives applications to install.”
Mario Karlson, a supervising environmental health specialist, described some of the proposed streamlining measures that would encourage people to seek permits. They include revising a requirement to have systems tested twice a year, reducing the frequency of the testing to once every three years.
Two public meetings on the code update were held in 2016, including one in Trinidad that drew 22 attendees.
Environmental Health would accept written comments on a draft of the revised program.
Supervisor Rex Bohn noted that the county has been analyzing potential changes to its program for years. Public outreach has shaped the effort and Bohn said interest continues to be high.
“There are so many people out there that want to upgrade their systems because of (disease) outbreaks, because of seepage into their water systems and everything else – they want to take that step forward,” he said. He added that upgrading the systems is “a huge issue” in various areas of the county.
Supervisor Estelle Fennell asked staff to “make clear what kinds of systems are allowable” in the next presentation and encouraged continued public outreach.
Karlson acknowledged that “it’s important to understand the perspective a little bit better from the public.”
Environmental Health reviewed the regulatory approaches of 31 of the state’s counties. Of those, seven counties, including Humboldt, permit composting toilets on residential properties.
Supervisors directed Environmental Health staff to research how other counties address composting toilet systems, to solicit more public input and to return at a future meeting with revisions to the program.