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Land Use, Septic & Wells


Land Use, Septic Systems & Water Wells

IMPORTANT: Environmental Health Services is transitioning to an online portal in 2024 to streamline the process of managing permits and billing. If you did not already respond to the postcard mailer or email that went out in November and December, please review the email (click here) for further instructions. It is critical that we collect contact information to designate someone as a primary user who will be responsible for managing your business’ online account.

Program Overview

All homes must have a safe water supply and a system for proper disposal of sewage and wastewater. Some people in San Mateo County live in areas that do not have a community water supply or a municipal sewer system. If you live in one of these areas, you must install your own water and sewer systems.

The goal of the Land Use Program is to help people who live in these areas with these water supplies or sewage disposal systems. Inspection staff also certify septic system installers and percolation testers.

OWTS Ordinance. Onsite Systems Manual, and Local Agency Management Program

The current Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (OWTS) Ordinance  was approved by the County Board of Supervisors and was effective on February 4, 2016. Our Onsite Systems Manual (OSM) (May 11, 2016) is the implementation manual for the new OWTS Ordinance. The Ordinance and OSM are designed to comply with recent State OWTS Policy.

San Mateo County’s Local Agency Management Program (LAMP) pertains to the oversight of onsite wastewater treatment systems (OWTS) within the County of San Mateo, California. The LAMP was prepared in accordance with the requirements of the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) Water Quality Control Policy for Siting, Design, Operation, and Maintenance of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, dated June 19, 2012, also referred to as the “OWTS Policy”, and submitted to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Region, on May 11, 2016.  The LAMP was been prepared by San Mateo County to obtain approval for OWTS management under Tier 2 of the OWTS Policy. As such, it is intended to allow the County to continue providing local oversight of OWTS by implementing practices that: (a) are suited to the conditions in San Mateo County; (b) meet or exceed the environmental protections of the “default” siting and design requirements for OWTS identified in Tier 1 of the SWRCB OWTS Policy; and (c) ensure the best opportunity for coordinated and comprehensive management of OWTS, public health and water quality in San Mateo County.

Individual Sewage Disposal Systems

If you live in an area of San Mateo County that does not have a municipal sewer system, you must dispose of sewage and wastewater on your own property. In San Mateo County, the only approved system is a septic system. In a septic system, wastewater goes into a large underground tank. Pumping removes the solids in the tank. The liquid in the tank flows into the ground through a system of underground pipe and gravel. Over time, as the liquid soaks into the ground, organisms that live in the ground and in the sewage eat the organic materials and the harmful bacteria die.

Inspection staff will observe and approve the work when you need to install, repair, alter or destroy an individual sewage disposal system.

They do this by:

  • reviewing the proposed location for the system;
  • observing soil testing;
  • reviewing and approving plans;
  • observing the construction of the system;
  • verifying when a system has been destroyed safely; and
  • certifying installers and percolation testers.

When a septic system fails, sewage may back up into a home or it may pool onto the ground. Inspection staff investigate complaints of failed septic systems to make sure there is no hazard to public health.

Individual Water Supplies

Inspection staff regulate all domestic and agricultural water wells and springs. Before you move into your new residence or business, they will make sure that your water supply is safe. They do this by:

  • checking that all wells and springs are constructed properly;
  • certifying that the water output meets local requirements; and
  • monitoring and reviewing chemical and bacterial tests.


All people who install individual water supplies or sewage disposal systems must have a permit from Environmental Health.

Application approval can take some time. Inspection staff check permit applications to make sure that all installations will be safe for neighboring properties and surrounding areas. Often, community members and/or the County Board of Supervisors must approve the installation of new systems, as well.

Onsite Systems Manual

Complete Onsite Systems Manual

By Section:

Section 0: Introduction with Glossary of Terms
Section 1: Policies and Administrative Procedures

Clarification of Connection to Sanitary Sewer

Section 2: Site Investigation Requirements and Procedures
Section 3: Design and Construction Requirements for Conventional OWTS
Section 4: Alternative OWTS Requirements
Section 5: OWTS Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation
Section 6: Advanced Protection Management Program

Applications and Ordinances

Septic Ordinance
State Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (Septic) Policy
Perc Testing Device Instructions
Water Well Application
Water Well Construction Procedures
Heat Exchange Bores/Wells
Water Well Ordinance
Quality Standards - California Title 22 Primary Inorganics
Land Use Review Application
Septic Application
Land Use program fee schedule
Pay your invoice online

Ordinance Code

Disinfection of Wells

  • Introduce one cup of household bleach into the well through opening at the slab top or casing. Newer wells should have a capped gravel pack pipe or disinfection pipe at the slab which can be opened. For wells deeper than 50 feet, introduce two cups of household bleach into the well.
  • Add five gallons of water chlorinated with ½ cup of household bleach to the well to force the solution out into the surrounding formation.
  • Operate the well pump until a distinct odor of chlorine can be detected in the water after the pressure tank or somewhere at the house.
  • If the well was operational during the storm, and there is a risk that house lines are contaminated, run the water until the smell of chlorine can be detected at the kitchen and bathroom sinks.
  • Allow the chlorine solution to remain in the well and water lines for at least four hours, preferably overnight.
  • After disinfection, pump the well and run the water in the house until the odor of chlorine is no longer detected.
  • To collect a sample to be tested for bacteria, it is best to use a container provided by the laboratory. If one is not available, use a 12 oz. or greater glass jar which has been sterilized by boiling (lid included). If possible, take the sample directly from the well or an outside tap. Run the water for one minute, take sample being careful not to touch the inside of the lid or jar. Transport to a commercial laboratory or the County Public Health Lab. The sample should be on ice and arrive at the lab no more than 5 hours after sample collection for valid results. Test for “Coliform Bacteria, presence/absence.” Call the laboratory first to ensure they can do the required analysis. The County Public Health Lab is located 225 W. 37th Avenue, Room No. 113, San Mateo, CA 94403 | (650) 573-2500.
General information

Well Use in Droughts

Our goal, especially during the current drought, is to work with you to maintain an adequate and safe water supply for your household. If your well or spring is not producing enough water for your needs, please review the information in these frequently asked questions as we continue to seek resources and options for homeowners using wells for water supply in rural San Mateo County.