Friday, 27 May 2022

Supervisors hear concerns about aerobic wastewater system failures

LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors directed county staff on Tuesday to begin the process of investigating issues with onsite aerobic wastewater treatment systems used by several hundred homes around the county.

The systems, which use oxygen to break down organic matter as part of wastewater pretreatment, have been used on properties that otherwise would have been considered unbuildable because conditions don’t allow for traditional septic systems.

Kelseyville residents David and Gale Bischel asked for the board to discuss the issue. The couple also has reportedly filed a claim against the county for permitting the system in their home, which they’ve owned for more than six years.

David Bischel, speaking to the board Tuesday, said he feels he was duped into buying his home, and he and his family have struggled ever since with the system, which he’s been told will cost more than $20,000 to fix.

Supervisor Denise Rushing asked what action the board could take. She suggested that if there was data showing there are problems with the systems, the county may want to investigate before permitting them in the future.

Bischel said his unit is overflowing into his neighbor’s yard, his toilets don’t work and he’s had to bring in a portable toilet.

To make matters worse, Bischel told the board on Tuesday that Multi-Flo’s parent company, Consolidated Treatment Systems, is threatening to sue him and his wife for defamation for speaking out about their problems with the product.

He said red-tagging homes with the failing systems is not a solution, and suggested the board needed to advocate for the National Sanitation Foundation to investigate the situation fully in order to prevent similar situations for other families.

Environmental Health Director Ray Ruminski and county Health Services Department Director Jim Brown were on hand to answer questions for the board about the county’s experience with the systems.

Ruminski said his department assessed the number of permits issued and associated complaints going back to 2006.

Aerobic system models used in the county include Multi-Flo, Southern Aerobic Systems, Hydro-Action, Hoot and Clearstream, he said.

Of 273 Multi-Flo systems there have been 14 complaints; 44 permits and six complaints for Southern Aerobic Systems; 168 permitted systems and four complaints with Hydro-Action; 65 permits and two complaints for the Hoot system; and 10 permits and two complaints for Clearstream, Ruminski reported.

“The Multi-Flo seems to have more chronic complaints,” Ruminski said.

Bischel, who said he has reached out to other homeowners in the county with the systems, told the board that people are afraid to come forward due to fears about having their homes red-tagged.

Of the 40 or so homes where he’s left fliers or contacted homeowners, Bischel said he’s documented 12 homeowners who are having problems with the systems not working properly.

Rushing said it might be worth it for the county to stop approving specific types of the systems until an investigation is completed.

If they’re failing in such a way that it’s affecting property values and becoming an environmental health issue, she said they shouldn’t be approved until the county gets to the bottom of the issue.

Bischel explained that part of the problem was that one company had an arrangement with just one service provider.

Rushing said when you have a company with a proprietary technology, “They are controlling it.”

Ruminski said that as far as a moratorium on specific system brands, the current building slump has taken care of that, as there have been no permits pulled for new aerobic systems.

Bischel asked if the county could put a moratorium on red-tagging homes with failing aerobic systems.

Board Chair Rob Brown said that if problems with the systems are as widespread and serious as Bischel was alleging – including leaking sewage – something needed to be done.

Ruminski said it’s dramatic, drastic and rare to red tag homes. The other alternative, he said, was to force people to pay a lot of money to replace the systems.

He was concerned that his department didn’t have the resources needed to fully investigate the issue.

County Counsel Anita Grant suggested the board could direct staff to come up with a mechanism to analyze the information Bischel had collected on the problems with the systems.

Bischel wanted to know if the county could advocate for homeowners, suggesting that the county should go after the company and the National Sanitation Foundation. “I don’t think that’s the homeowners’ responsibility.”

Rushing moved to direct staff to come back with a plan to conduct a comprehensive review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the use of all aerobic systems and their efficacy in Lake County and devise a means to track that data.

The board approved the matter 4-0. Supervisor Anthony Farrington was absent from the meeting.

In other board news, Sheriff Frank Rivero was ill and did not attend the board meeting to continue discussing his request for legal representation in a dispute with District Attorney Don Anderson over an investigation into a 2008 shooting in which Rivero was involved. That matter was continued to 9:40 a.m. Tuesday, March 6.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at, on Tumblr at, on Google+, on Facebook at and on YouTube at

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