Laguna Beach residents could be held more accountable for tree roots that threaten the city's main sewer lines.
The City Council voted 4 to 0 on Tuesday to give city staff the go-ahead to come up with a list of recommendations geared toward homeowners and plumbers. Mayor Kelly Boyd is on vacation.
"The biggest problem is private sewer spills caused by roots pushed out from private sewer pipelines," David Shissler, the city's water quality director, told council members. "This year we've had a significant amount of problems with [sewage] backup into homes because of roots."
A majority of problems concern private sewer lines connecting to the city's main sewer lines. The backups can result in costly claims to the city, a staff report said.
The connection between private lines and the main public line can become compromised and leak if the soil loosens, creating pools of water that attract tree roots, the staff report said.
Tree roots can block the private line's discharge into the public line, and the city's pipes could become clogged if a plumber cuts chunks from the tree roots and they enter the main pipeline, according to the report.
Staff will analyze properties that might need a backflow device, a valve installed within the sewer line that keeps sewage heading one way, away from the house, Shissler said.
Homeowners would receive a letter saying that failure to install a device could result in a costly sewage spill in their home, the staff report said. The city already sends letters to certain homeowners in flatter areas, but will expand its reach to hillside properties, Shissler said.
The city also proposes requiring homeowners to notify the city when a plumber cleans a private sewer line so the city can ward off any problems that might result to the main, according to the staff report.
The City Council authorized staff to use $60,000 from the city's sewer fund for video inspections at properties that have had sewer line cleanings or a history of root problems, the report said.
Councilman Steve Dicterow questioned how some recommendations would be carried out and whether the city would be on the hook for a resident's failure to comply with guidelines.
City staff will research incentives that could be offered to property owners to repair or replace private sewer lines with a history of problems, according to the report.
Dicterow also asked how plumbers, especially those outside Laguna, would find out about the new requirements and notify the city of a problem.
A financial incentive would be one way to boost plumbers' desire to report a problem, Shissler said.
"We have plumbers indigenous to Laguna, but my guess is there are a tremendous percentage of plumbers who aren't indigenous to Laguna and don't know what our rules are," Dicterow said.
Staff will conduct a public education campaign, including adding information to an annual brochure and possibly to customers' water bills, Shissler said.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman asked if a list of plumbers who have business licenses in Laguna could be added to the city's website.
"It's free advertisement and it would encourage people to use plumbers with licenses in Laguna," she said.
Staff will also, with input from the public and Laguna Board of Realtors, prepare a list of possible revisions to the city's existing private sewer ordinance, which could include requiring inspections of private sewer lines when someone purchases a home, before major remodels and following sewage spills, the staff report said.
Staff will return to the council for consideration of the revisions in six months, according to the report.