Waste water woes

New plant on hold after citizens voice concerns

Years in the making, the waste water treatment facility project is in a pause stage after citizens’ concerns about the possible increase in water and sewer rates were placed before the City Council.
For more than 10 years our city fathers have wrestled with the planning for a new waste water treatment facility. The existing plant is definitely reaching the end of its life. It has operated well, treating the waste water from both Morro Bay and Cayucos for years, except for when an increase in waste water hits the plant, that usually occurring during tourist season when both towns swell with visitors. Over the past five years there have been only three to five days when the water sent through the outfall did not comply with state and federal water standards and no fines have been levied, although the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board could have done so.
Studies were conducted utilizing the hiring of several consultants to find just the right spot for a new waste water treatment facility and along with the hopes of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the City of Morro Bay for a Water Reclamation Facility, whereby treated water could be recycled back into a variety of uses.
A Citizen’s Advisory Committee (WRFCAC) studied the issue, read the reports, and reviewed the financial information. Concerned residents also studied the plans. Somewhere along the way the actual costs of doing a project of this scope seemed to be lost in translation until recently it became clear that costs could reach as high as $167 million dollars. It is estimated that a cost like this would necessitate an increase in the water and sewer bill for a single-family residence to reach approximately $150 a month, above and beyond the approved 218 Vote of a few years ago that promised a new sewer for $75 million dollars. Currently most bills come in around $80 per month, give or take some, based on usage. This increase would go to whoever pays the water/sewer bill whether property owner or tenant. Landlords would likely pass this expense on to renters.
The agreement between Morro Bay and Cayucos ended in 2013 when for some reason the City of Morro Bay asked the Coastal Commission to deny the joint application. Cayucos pulled out of the project deciding to build their own plant. They have already set this in motion coming in with a cost of approximately $25 million dollars for their waste water treatment facility on a site north of Morro Bay.
With Cayucos out of the project and with their waste water treatment needs channeling to their new site eventually, the operation of Morro Bay’s existing waste water treatment facility will be eased and less likely to be out of compliance. One could question the need for developing a new facility however, the existing site is not state of the art and is 64 years old and millions have been spent over the past five years on the existing plant. What may not be necessary now, even though environmentally sound, is the water reclamation part of the project.
Between questions as to how soon there is a necessity for a new facility and the estimated increase in water/sewer bills, many citizens went to the city council meetings to object to the $167 million-dollar figure. Due to citizen’s objections, a pause on the project was issued.
Resident will most likely receive a mailing from the city to participate in a 218 Vote on costs surrounding the waste water treatment facility project. A Proposition 218 process is required for water and sewer fee increases and it requires only a protest vote. Covered in this vote are the increased costs that persons paying the bill and property owners could be facing. If the city receives a majority (50 percent plus 1) of no votes, then the proposed fee cannot be implemented. So, it is important that everyone send in their vote. Participation is critical! Failure to vote “no” on the ballot for a rate increase will count as a yes!
Citizens for Affordable Living (CAL) has formed to aid in bringing all parties to the table to achieve an affordable waste water treatment facility project. They are talking to city council with suggestions based on what they are learning from other small cities that have built sewers in the last 10 years. They would like more participation – people to attend city council, and the advisory boards, WRFCAC Citizen’s Advisory Board, and Citizen’s Finance Committee (CFAC). Attendance at these meetings would be great but you can also view them on channel 20 for cable users and through SLO-Span.com for others. Become involved! This is a vital issue for Morro Bay. CAL also wants concerned resident to send a letter or email to city council at [email protected] .
To learn more contact CAL at [email protected]