Graphic courtesy City of Arcata. 

Yes, the City of Arcata’s new ordinance goes into effect tomorrow, April 1. And, sure, it involves poop and pee. Ha! But this is not an April Fools Day prank: Henceforth, anyone selling an Arcata property with buildings that are more than 25 years old will be responsible for getting their underground sewer lines inspected.

This is not just an abstract or theoretical problem. Last November, you may recall, the rotted cast iron pipes behind the Szechuan Garden restaurant on 18th Street began leaking raw sewage, which then flowed into storm drains, down through Jolly Giant Creek and into Humboldt Bay, forcing a temporary shutdown of oyster harvesting.

Mark Andre, Arcata’s environmental services director, tells the Outpost that this ordinance has been in the works since well before that incident and was approved by the City Council last August. The sewer lines in question are all on private property, so the property owners have always been responsible for them. But until now faulty pipes were only discovered if there happened to be smoke testing done in the area or if there was a big leak, like the one at Szechuan Garden.

The new ordinance will trigger inspections whenever qualifying properties change hands and whenever a qualifying property owner does a remodel that’s worth more than $30,000.

The full ordinance is available through a link at the bottom of this post. Here’s a press release from the City of Arcata:

Beginning Friday, April 1, 2016, people who own older properties will need to have their private sewer laterals inspected for leaks before they can sell. 

The Arcata City Council approved Ordinance 1461 last year. The ordinance includes provisions to protect creek, watershed and bay water quality by putting a routine inspection and repair system in place. The ordinance requires the inspection of sewer laterals for buildings and homes that are over 25 years old when the property is being sold or a major remodel is planned.

A significant amount of water that enters the city sewer system during wet weather comes from leaky private sewer laterals and from roof downspouts and sump pumps that drain directly into sanitary sewer laterals. The laterals, small pipes connecting a building’s plumbing to the public sewer main, corrode over time, allowing roots and rainwater to infiltrate the pipes. Most laterals are not replaced until after the property owner experiences a sewer backup. By this time, the damage is done. Raw sewage can overflow not just into people’s homes, but into the street and waterways leading to the bay.

“When the City’s sewer main network of bigger pipes can’t handle the volume of wastewater, the system can overflow or upset,” says Arcata Environmental Services Director Mark André. “That can be a public health threat because raw sewage flows to the streets and gutters, people can walk or drive through it, and it can flow into storm drain inlets that lead to creeks and ultimately to Humboldt Bay. Pumping and treating excess water that enters the sewer system via failed sewer laterals also requires energy and creates unnecessary costs to the wastewater utility.”

Sewer lateral inspections and necessary repairs need to be completed prior to close of escrow. Additionally, a sewer cleanout must be installed if one is not already in place. A Private Sewer Lateral Certificate will be provided by the City Building and Engineering Department following repair or replacement of the lateral. Property owners can post a bond or deposit to allow escrow to close and get a time extension of up to one year to complete necessary repairs.

Some property sales are exempt from this new law, including when property is transferred between family members and there is no reassessment of property value and when the sewer laterals have already been repaired or replaced within 25 years.For details on exceptions and more information about the new time of sale provision, contact the City of Arcata Environmental Services Department at (707) 822-8184,, or the Building and Engineering Department at (707) 825-2128,

Property owners can read the entire ordinance on the City of Arcata website,¸ search “Ordinance 1461.” [Or just click here. -Ed.] Local plumbing firms are also familiar with the new ordinance’s requirements.