Septic System Regulations in California

California is one of only two states that did not have state septic system regulations until 2005. California then created a standardized set of rules and regulations to follow regarding all different aspects of septic systems including design, repair, maintenance, installation, pumping and replacements. Today the average population of California is well over 38 million people. That being said, there is not enough room for everyone who owns a house to be close enough to the city sewer connection. Many people in the state of California rely on personal septic systems to dispose of their wastewater.

With so many homes dependent upon septic systems, there have to be rules and regulations in place to ensure the safety of the surrounding environment, including local wildlife and sensitive bodies of water. These are generated at the state, county and local levels to protect groundwater sources and the environment. When a septic system is not installed, repaired or maintained properly, catastrophic consequences could ensue.

California Septic Tank Regulations & Guidelines

There are many rules and regulations surrounding septic systems in California. The best way to ensure they are all being followed correctly is to hire a reputable and experienced septic system service company in California like Acuantia. We are always careful to follow all federal, state and county guidelines to ensure the safety of our environment and our clients’ families. Not only do we follow all regulations set forth, but we are also an ethical septic company motivated to protect the environment, a client’s family or nearby bodies of water from risk of contamination. To give an overview of what the guidelines entail, we have compiled a list of the most important California septic tank laws and regulations.


Permits are required for repairing, installing, replacing and pumping septic systems in the state of California. Permits are required so that the state and county can ensure that everything is done properly, and also to keep track of how many households are using septic systems. Any time a septic system needs to be installed or replaced, a permit is required. The local county, city or the Central Coast Water Board can issue a permit for septic systems depending upon the area in which the individual lives as well as a few other factors.

Permits are not always necessary for repairs, but there are some circumstances where a permit is required. Here are the two requirements that repairs must meet in order to be excused from needing a permit according to the [Central Coast Water Board](Permits are not always necessary for repairs, but there are some circumstances where a permit is required. Here are the two requirements that repairs must meet in order to be excused from needing a permit according to the Central Coast Water Board.).

  • Minor repairs (e.g., replacement of a distribution box, broken piping connection or septic tank lid)
  • Major repairs for systems that comply with the siting and design standards of Tier 1 of the OWTS Policy or the conditions and requirements outlined in an approved Local Agency Management Program (currently Santa Barbara County and Monterey County have approved programs). Some examples of major repairs include baffle failure, tank structural integrity failure or the dispersal system no longer adequately percolating the wastewater. [Note: Septic tank replacements that meet the standards listed in 8.2.2 of the OWTS Policy or an approved Local Agency Management Program do not need a permit from the Central Coast Water Board]


All California septic tanks and systems must be inspected after being installed or replaced before they can be used. They should also be inspected every 6 months to one year to ensure no damage has occurred and everything is in working order. It’s highly recommended that homeowners with septic systems can have their septic system inspected by regularly scheduling maintenance. This way the entire system is maintained and inspected at the same time which essentially will save the homeowner money in the long run, instead of paying for two separate trips to look over the septic system. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to keep their septic system in working order and up to code, thus maintenance and inspections are necessary to prohibit fines and other consequences.


When installing or replacing a septic system in California, it must be done by a certified professional or by the homeowner. This will require site and soil evaluations as well as a permit before any work can begin. A complete drawing of the septic system design must be submitted with the permit, and the drawing must reflect a septic system that is up to regulation.

Each county has specific guidelines to follow regarding how far away from the home a septic system can be, how deep the drain fields need to be buried and other specifications relating to properly and safely installing a septic system. If these are not followed then serious legal and environmental issues could occur.

Penalties And Impacts For Violating Septic System Regulations In California

In California, it is illegal to clean, pump or dispose of septic system waste without a permit. This means that a certified septic company must do any cleaning or pumping when the septic system needs maintenance. Performing any of these tasks without the proper certification could result in serious penalties and fines from not only the county or state but from the Environmental Protection Agency. The same goes for permits as well. If a septic system is installed, replaced or repaired without the proper permits, serious consequences could ensue.

Penalties are also issued for septic system code violations in the design and function of the septic system itself. The penalties for violations, whether regarding permits, pumping, repairs or installation are determined by the city or county. To give a broad spectrum of what a homeowner can expect for not following regulations, fines can be anywhere from $200 to $25,000. Therefore it is always best to follow any and all regulations. To make sure this is done, it is always recommended to hire a reputable septic company, such as Acuantia. At Acuantia, we provide ethical, licensed and well-managed septic system services to ensure the safety of the environment, our clients’ families and the local bodies of water. Our main goal when performing any task related to a septic system is to perform the task efficiently and without fault.

The penalty for illegal septic systems in California goes beyond a fine. The septic tank could be deemed unsafe for use, which means individuals inside the home will not be able to use any water services. Flushing the toilet, taking a shower and running the sink will all become impossible until a new septic system replaces the existing one. This is a huge inconvenience and will cost the homeowner time and money.

Homeowners could be held liable for all hazardous waste damage, cleanup and restitution for loss of wildlife and/or habitat due to not properly maintaining their septic systems. This is because harmful bacteria can leach into the soil from a damaged or unmaintained septic system, which causes serious damage to the environment and could be a health risk to wildlife, children and pets.

Stay Up To Date On New California Septic System Regulations

In 2020, California released new regulations surrounding septic systems. We always want our clients to stay up to date on the rules and regulations; therefore, we have paraphrased some of them in layman’s terms so that they are simpler to understand. Here are the most important new regulations to know about concerning septic systems.

Under California’s newly amended septic system laws, onsite wastewater treatment systems are divided into five tiers:

  • Tier 0 – These septic systems are determined to be currently in a good state of repair and pose no risk or threat to local water supplies, environments or wildlife.
  • Tier 1 – These septic systems are new or replacement systems in areas that are low risk. There are no Local Agency Management Programs instituted for these areas.
  • Tier 2 – These regions are overseen by the Local Agency Management Programs and are considered to have a moderate risk factor for new or replacement septic systems.
  • Tier 3 – Septic systems in this category have much stricter requirements than in the lower tiers. This is mainly due to existing pollution or contamination of nearby bodies of water.
  • Tier 4 – These septic systems are considered to be in a state of disrepair or they are causing damage to the surrounding environment and bodies of water. This is usually due to effluent seeping out of the septic tank. Septic systems in this category receive the most strict regulations and oversight from local governments.

Homeowners should make sure their existing septic systems are operating efficiently in order to avoid Tier 4 restrictions and the increased costs and replacement requirements associated with this regulatory category. This can be done by simply hiring a reputable septic service provider to perform necessary repairs, inspections and maintenance. Acuantia has all the necessary California septic tank certifications, which means we can do all of this and more for all of our clients.

Why Choose Acuantia?

We solve homeowners’ onsite wastewater needs by:

  • Providing a one-stop-shop experience
  • Partnering with trusted, high-quality service providers
  • Affordably managing your project end-to-end
  • Simplifying the complicated onsite wastewater experience
  • Managing and completing your job to the highest standard
  • Maintaining your system to keep it running into the future

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