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Water, Wastewater, and Land Use FAQs

1.  How do I test my water or get test results?

Private wells must be tested by the homeowner at their own expense. It is recommended to test annually for bacteria, nitrates and any other contaminants of concern, i.e., arsenic, fluoride, iron, manganese and sulfur. A list of State certified labs in San Bernardino County is available. Contact our office at 1-800-442-2283. Test results from public wells must be sent in a Consumer Confidence Report by July 1 each year to those served.

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2.  How do I know how much water I use from my well?

Put a meter on the discharge and measure gallons per minute (gpm). Typical homes only need a well that pumps 1-3 gpm. Conduct a pump test on the well every year to determine its pumping capacity and the motor efficiency (from Southern California Edison or a private company). A list is available at our office. Call 1-800-442-2283.

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3.  How should my well be constructed for an individual home?

A well permit is required from Environmental Health Services. A registered C-57 well driller must sign the permit. A list of drillers is available at our office. Call 1-800-442-2283. For a diagram of a typical individual well, view Typical Individual Well.

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4.  Do I need a permit to construct or destroy a well?

Yes, for all types of wells. The Environmental Health Services permits the construction and destruction of wells for all of San Bernardino County.

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5.  How do I obtain a well permit application?

You can call 1-800-442-2283, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Applications can be sent by mail or picked up at our office at:

Environmental Health Services
385 N. Arrowhead, 2nd Floor
San Bernardino, CA 92415-0160

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6.  What is an Individual Sewage Disposal System (ISDS)?

An Individual Sewage Disposal System (ISDS) is a privately owned and maintained sewage disposal system. They are commonly referred to as septic systems or on-site wastewater systems. All ISDS have two basic components, a two-compartment septic tank and disposal field. The septic tank serves to separate and store solid material and the disposal field allows wastewater to percolate into the ground.

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7.  Who designs my Individual Sewage Disposal System (ISDS)?

Due to the potential adverse impacts to public health and the environment from improperly designed or constructed sewage disposal systems, ISDS must be designed by a registered civil engineer, registered geologist, or a registered environmental health specialist. When proposing a repair to an existing ISDS a design by a registered professional may not be required.

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8.  If a customer has a design of a proposed septic system that has been approved by Environmental Health Services, can he then proceed with the installation of the septic system?

After Environmental Health Services reviews and approves the proposed septic system, the customer must always obtain a construction permit from Building and Safety. In certain situations, the customer will also have to obtain approval to install the system from the local Regional Water Quality Control Board. Environmental Health Services will advise the customer to obtain water board approval when necessary.

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9.  How long do septic systems last?

A properly installed septic system should function for 20 to 30 years. The septic system does require care and maintenance. View Taking Care of Your Septic System.pdf (English) or (Español).

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10.  Why do we size septic systems on the number of bedrooms rather than bathrooms?

The Uniform Plumbing Code sets the sizes of septic tanks based on the number of bedrooms in a residence. The plumbing code also gives the administrative authority (EHS) leeway to require higher requirements when the requirements are essential to maintain a safe and sanitary condition. An example is a 3,000 square foot house that has nine rooms (excluding bathrooms) and the builder states it's only a two-bedroom residence with four bathrooms. A 750-gallon tank is not appropriate for this residence. EHS would require a minimum 1200-gallon tank.

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11.  Does Environmental Health Services investigate sewage odors?

No, odors may originate miles away and may not be from surfacing sewage. They often come from roof vents or other similar sources. This can sometimes be corrected by raising the roof vent pipe several feet. Also, deodorizers can be purchased that fit over the roof vent to eliminate the odor.

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12.  There is a building without a septic system or water. What can be done?

At this time, Environmental Health Services does not respond to this type of complaint, because no surfacing sewage has been alleged or observed by the complainant. This type of complaint is currently being reviewed by a Board of Supervisors ad hoc committee for further determination. However, if sewage is being discharged onto the ground or into a stream, we will immediately investigate.

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13.  What can I do about my neighbor's failing septic system?

You can report this to Environmental Health Services and we will immediately investigate. If a health hazard is verified, the owner will be given a notice to correct the problem. This will be followed up to be sure the corrections are made. Complainant names are confidential and will not be released to the public without a court order.

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14.  What do I do if I have a failing septic system?

Sewage that surfaces on the ground or is backing up into your home is a health hazard, and must be eliminated as quickly as possible. This could be caused by a number of factors. Look at the simplest fixes first, such as a clogged drain line before or after the septic tank, or failed electrical to a sewage pump. Pumping the septic tank to stop the surface discharge of sewage is necessary if the leachfield is failing. In this situation, the household should go on a water conservation program to reduce water usage to extend the time period before the tank will need to be pumped again. The spill area should be sanitized with a mixture of household bleach and water to destroy any bacteria and viruses. You can contact our office at 1-800-442-2283 for additional information. Note that most physical repairs to the septic system require a permit.

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15.  What is the purpose of AB 885?

The purpose of the AB 885 policy is to allow the continued use of on-site wastewater treatment systems (OWTS), while protecting water quality and public health.

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16.  How will the protection of water quality and public health be accomplished?

The AB 885 policy establishes a statewide, risk-based, tiered approach for the regulation and management of OWTS installations and replacements, and sets the level of performance and protection expected from OWTS. In particular, AB 885 requires actions for the identified areas where OWTS contribute to water quality degradation that adversely affect beneficial uses. AB 885 establishes minimum requirements for permitting, monitoring, and operation of OWTS.

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17.  What is the County of San Bernardino Division of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) doing to comply with AB 885?

The Division of Environmental Health Services is working with other county agencies to develop and submit a Local Agency Management Program (LAMP) for approval to the governing Regional Water Quality Control Boards (RWQCB), Santa Ana RWQCB, Lahontan RWQCB, and Colorado River RWQCB.

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18.  What is a Local Agency Management Program (LAMP)?

LAMP is a management program where local agencies establish minimum standards that are different from those specified in AB 885, including the areas that cannot meet those minimum standards, but that still achieve the policy’s purpose of protecting water quality and public health. These standards may authorize different soil characteristics, usage of seepage pits, and different densities for new development. The County of San Bernardino Division of Environmental Health Services will develop a LAMP that addresses local conditions while still protecting water quality and public health.

To contact the Division of Environmental Health Services, call 800-442-2283. To view our office locations, click here.

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19.  How does the proposed policy affect septic tank owners?

More than 95% of current OWTS owners that are covered by the policy are expected to experience little or no change on the manner in which their systems are regulated. If an individual OWTS is currently in good operating condition, and is not near an Impaired Water Body that the state has identified as polluted with bacteria and/or nitrogen related compounds, then this proposed policy will have little to no effect on the property owner.

Owners of OWTS shall maintain their OWTS in good working condition including inspections and pumping of solids as necessary, to maintain proper function and ensure adequate treatment.

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20.  What is an Impaired Water Body?

Impaired Water Bodies are surface water bodies or segments thereof that are identified on a list approved first by the State Water Board and then approved by US EPA pursuant to Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act.

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21.  How do I know if I am near an Impaired Water Body?

Click here to view a list of water bodies impaired for pathogens that are subject to Tier 3 as of 2012.

Maps of water bodies impaired by bacteria (pathogens) or nitrogen compounds (nutrients) can be viewed at the State Water Boards’ website.

Please refer to the State Water Boards’ website for the most current information.

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22.  What are Designated Maintenance Areas (DMA)?

DMAs are unsewered areas of the county which have been determined to have unique topographical and hydrogeologic conditions in which the use of on-site septic systems or, more specifically, the improper operation of these systems could threaten the quality of local ground and/or surface water. The designation of these maintenance areas resulted in enhanced county control and monitoring of septic systems in these areas.

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23.  Why were DMAs created?

In 1973, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) prohibited the use of septic systems within several areas based on significant concerns that improperly operating septic systems threatened the quality of the ground water. Sewering of these areas was thought to be the best solution; however, feasibility studies found that this was not cost effective. As an alternative, in 1982, the County adopted an ordinance establishing DMAs. With the creation of the ordinance, septic systems were again allowed under enhanced County control.

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24.  What is enhanced County control?

Residents living in DMA areas were required to have a permit and inspections. Initially each septic system was reviewed, substandard systems upgraded, and demonstrated compliance with the minimum criteria specified in the ordinance.

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25.  Where are the DMAs?

The following areas are DMAs as defined by maps on file with the Clerk of the Board:

  • (a) U.S. Forest Service Polique Canyon Tract
  • (b) U.S. Forest Service Lakeview Tract
  • (c) Mill Creek Basin above 2,600 feet, including but not limited to the communities of Forest Falls, Angeles Oaks, and Mountain Home Village
  • (d) U.S. Forest Service Pine Knot Tract
  • (e) U.S. Forest Service Metcalf Creek Tract
  • (f) U.S. Forest Service Big Bear Tract
  • (g) U.S. Forest Service Willow Glen Tract

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26.  Why do I need a permit and inspection?

The DMA ordinance requires a biennial survey inspection of each septic system for identification of failure. The Division of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) is a fee-for-service division. Permit fees are assessed by the amount of time required to perform the service. DMA permits are billed every other year and coincide with a 2 year inspection cycle.

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27.  What is involved in the biennial survey inspection?

The biennial survey inspections that are conducted involve a visual inspection of the property to look for obvious signs of system failure, such as standing or surfacing septage, exposed tank or leachlines, disconnected drain lines running off property, etc. Contact will be made with owners of properties which exhibit signs of a failing septic system.

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