Amendments to the City’s Sanitary Sewer System Ordinance

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June 26, 2018

In order to improve private sewer infrastructure and protect the environment and local waterways from bacteria-laden human waste coming from undetected sewer leaks or sanitary sewer spills, the City Council adopted changes to the Sanitary Sewer System Ordinance on June 26, 2018.

The changes, which respond to state requirements, are currently in place throughout much of California.

curb overflow

Map sewer





The City of Santa Cruz regularly maintains and improves the City’s public sanitary sewer system—an extensive underground system of 160 miles of pipe that transport wastewater from pipelines under neighborhood streets to the City of Santa Cruz Wastewater Treatment Facility located near Neary Lagoon. All of these public pipelines are cleaned once a year and over 1 mile of pipeline is replaced every year. 


The maintenance of the 16,000 private sewer laterals, which carry wastewater from toilets, sinks and drains to City’s public sewer pipelines, has always been the responsibility of each Santa Cruz property owner.

As private laterals age, just as sewer mains do, they can develop leaks, become clogged by fats, oils and grease, and become cracked by roots. Cracked and damaged sewer laterals can cause sewer spills and backups which damage property and threaten public health and the environment. Defective sewer laterals affect us all.

The City of Santa Cruz documents dozens of lateral spills each year.


damaged sewer pipe 

                          This photograph illustrates root intrusion.


The changes to the Sanitary Sewer System Ordinance are three-fold:

  • The owner of a property with a sewer spill is responsible for stopping the spill immediately and will be subject to fines and penalties if inspections and repairs are not made in a timely manner.
  • Prior to the sale of a property, the property owner must have the sewer lateral inspected by an authorized inspector, make any needed repairs, and submit an inspection form to verify compliance.The property is exempted from inspection for newer laterals or laterals that have passed inspection within the past five years.
  • Private sanitary sewer collection systems and pumps (at apartment buildings, homeowner associations and businesses) must pass inspection every 10 years. Their pipelines must be cleaned every two to five years depending on size. Privately-owned pump stations must pass inspection every one to five years depending on size.

These amendments strengthen the existing ordinance and were approved by the Santa Cruz City Council on June 26, 2018.  The new spill procedures will be implemented on Aug. 1; the private sewer system and pump requirements will begin on Jan.1, 2019; and the lateral inspection upon sale of property requirements will begin on July 1, 2019.

We offer an incentive program to help offset fees related to the ordinance changes. Details of this can be read here and the Sewer Ordinance Rebate Application can be downloaded here.

For a list of City of Santa Cruz authorized professionals certified to inspect laterals, please click here.

The Sanitary Sewer Overflows Inspection Form is available here

Best practices to prevent lateral backups (PDF) (PDF in Spanish)

Frequently Asked Questions are answered here.

Other questions may be answered at the Sewer Lateral Blog hosted by the Coastal Watershed Council at