Something smells in Los Osos
January 21, 2010
Current well tests show the average nitrate levels are one half milligram over drinking water standards (minimal) but sea water has intruded into, and filled the pyramid shaped water basin, from it’s base to at least half way to the top. Nitrates can be easily filtered at the well heads but chloride, from the sea water intrusion (SWI), is a far more problematic pollutant.
Up until about 10 years ago, San Luis Obispo County was the water purveyor for Los Osos. They, as well as the Regional Water Board, were fully aware of the SWI but ignored it, despite officially designating the basin as Level III Water Resource Severity as late as 2007.
These government agencies, whose purpose includes protection of resources, targeted Los Osos, a low income, coastal town for nitrate pollution and directed the construction of a conventional Gravity collection style industrial sewer system. The unincorporated town, under the threat of severe potential fines, voted to assess themselves $25,000 per household plus “fees and charges” for an undefined project.
What was promised, in the Engineer’s Report for the 218 special tax assessment Election, was that alternative low pressure STEP technology would be compared with the conventional Gravity system. As the EIR process progressed, it was acknowledged that STEP technology had the potential for less impacts to the environment and was likely less expensive than the conventional system. Just prior to final project comparison, the county government, the lead agency for the project, dropped the STEP option and stated they would be building a conventional system despite being much more expensive and substantially more environmentally detrimental.
Local residents, citizen’s groups, environmental groups and agencies have protested the county’s decisions, but San Luis Obispo County, who stands to collect 15-20 percent administration on the total Project cost from this working class community, insists on building an outdated and costly conventional project.
Our local county government has a history for sole-sourcing, eliminating competition and innovation, and creating a climate where the good ol’ boys get the contracts. Los Osos’ predicament is not isolated, as several other towns within the county have compromised their water basins due to pressure and neglect by the government.
Most disturbing is the continued use of obsolete technology for the purpose of keeping associates in business. There is a great deal of conflict of interest that is being brushed under the rug. Not only does this cost the taxpayers, these unsustainable projects jeopardize the water supply and harm the sensitive ecosystem which borders a National Estuary/State Marine Reserve, and supports rare and endangered plants and animals.
Legal representation is badly needed to protect what remains of the Los Osos water supply, as well as the environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHA), and the people who, because of astronomical and unnecessary costs, stand to lose their homes.
Los Osos is a precedent-setting case because of its designation as a Prohibition (No-discharge) Zone by the Central Coast Regional Water Board, and could determine the fate for more than a dozen other small communities on septic systems. Because of the strong political climate, sustainable solutions are not being attained and the region needs assistance.
The State Attorney General would be the correct agency to go to for relief but they represent the Water Board, leaving the people at a catastrophic loss. Los Osos could be a shining example of how to do things right, but instead it continues to perpetuate what is wrong. Unless we have legal representation at the upcoming Coastal Commission hearings, due to severe budget cuts, the Coastal Commission may approve the flawed project just because they are too under staffed to refute it. We are hoping that someone will rise to the occasion and help our community out of this big mess.
Piper Reilly is a member of the Los Osos Sustainability Group.