In the mid-1980’s, Marin County conducted a pollution study on the Big Mesa in Bolinas within a “Project Area” formally defined as the Regional Water Quality Control Board (“RWQCB”) Clean-Up and Abatement Area. The study concluded that septic systems in the Project Area presented a potential “public health hazard”. This conclusion qualified the County for grants issued under a state program known as the Clean Water Grant Project. The County subsequently received a grant from the State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”) to plan, engineer and construct upgraded on-site wastewater treatment (i.e., septic) systems within the Project Area. Although the County was the nominal grantee, it was generally understood that the County and BCPUD would work together on the preliminary planning and engineering phases of the project and then, when construction was ready to commence, BCPUD would assume authority for management and oversight of the construction (as well as oversight of) the upgraded on-site wastewater treatment systems in the Project Area. The planned project became known locally as the “Questa Project”, due to the fact that the Questa Engineering firm was retained by the County to do the initial planning and engineering work.
In order to pay for the anticipated costs of managing the on-site wastewater treatment system district (e.g., hire qualified staff, purchase necessary equipment, undertake additional administrative tasks, etc.), the BCPUD in FY 1988-89 instituted a “Septic and Drainage” service charge applicable to property owners in the Project Area (approximately 357 homeowners). However, the Questa Project did not proceed as planned; significant local opposition mounted to the on-site wastewater treatment systems designed by the County-retained engineers and Bolinas eventually rejected the Questa Project. As a result, the BCPUD never became an on-site wastewater treatment district; instead, BCPUD turned its focus to studying the surface water drainage on the Big Mesa to identify possible improvement projects to lower the water table and, ideally, improve septic system function. (High water tables, thin soils and slow percolation rates characteristic of the Big Mesa can impair septic system performance during wet winter months).
The BCPUD engaged the Todd Engineering firm to provide technical assistance and, in 1993, with the help of numerous Bolinas residents who gathered information on existing conditions, Todd Engineering prepared a set of Drainage Improvement Maps Bolinas Todd Plan East | Bolinas Todd Plan West, which depict an integrated system of surface drainage and the improvements. Although some of the major map features were field-checked by Todd Engineering, most of the minor features such as existing culverts, power poles, telephone poles, etc., were not. The objective was to provide a high-level integrated approach to improving drainage on the Big Mesa that could be accomplished via a series of projects executed individually by residents (or groups of residents) and their contractors over time. Today, more than two decades later, the maps continue to provide general guidance, but as projects have been implemented by residents and as topographical features have been changed/altered over time, among other things, understanding of surface drainage has improved. Anyone interested in implementing a surface drainage project on the Big Mesa should contact the BCPUD office to request a project consultation and receive updated information and assistance. If eligible, the BCPUD also provides culverts to customers “at cost” to facilitate project implementation.