Septic tanks for the rich
September 29, 2010

Malibu has long had a reputation as an enclave for celebrities living near Los Angeles -- it's up the coast and surrounded by woodlands, making it a little remote. And like many remote sites, it's depended heavily upon the use of septic systems for wastewater treatment instead of pump stations, force mains, and centralized wastewater treatment plants. But the state of California has just ruled that the city must install a centralized wastewater-treatment plant, because the septic systems have been polluting the local water and making people sick.

Septic systems obviously have their advantages -- they're good for places where homes are spaced too far apart to make centralized treatment economical, and they're far better than dumping untreated wastewater into creeks, rivers, and streams. Properly maintained, they're reasonably safe and environmentally friendly. But the wastewater passing through septic systems has to be disinfected -- either by chlorination or by ultraviolet light systems, to ensure that bacteria and pathogens aren't sent directly into the water that people use for drinking (and, near Malibu, for surfing). The California state ruling is interesting in that it's likely to impose a pretty significant expense on the residents of Malibu -- their willingness to pay, perhaps, revealing just how serious they are about truly doing something good for the environment.

September 2010
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last revised September 2010