Los Osos Waste
June 7, 2013
OPINION By TOM SALMON
The Los Osos sewer construction nears 25 percent completion, the only work that has really taken place is in the high and dry areas of the community. As complexities will begin to mount and construction becomes increasingly more difficult, the contractors will encounter areas of high groundwater in pockets throughout the community and along the bay fringe.
The unseen problems can only lead to higher costs, delays and distrust.
Pilot wells have been drilled along the edges of 3rd Street and Doris Avenue where groundwater levels are nearly at the surface. These wells are intended to be pumped 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; in succession dewatering the blocks-long stretches so that pipes can be laid in some cases, up to 18 feet below the surface. With the water of unknown quality and quantity to be pumped to locations yet to be determined — a permit has been issued dump it into Morro Bay. The engineering data from the county estimates millions of gallons each day will be discharged this way.
What is important to remember is to sewer Los Osos is an unfunded “mandate” handed down by the Regional Water Quality Control Board due to rising levels of nitrate in the basin’s upper aquifer. As Los Osos development increased during the 1970’s and early 1980’s over 4,500 septic systems were put into use. The RWQCB concluded, in a less than scientific manner, that the more septic systems in use equated to increased pollution of the groundwater. With no new development over the last 25 years in Los Osos, using that same unscientific formula, why have recent nitrate tests show levels to again be on the rise? They are up slightly over test results done six years ago.
What is in the water? Those dewatering wells will be pumping millions of gallons of what should be polluted with septic returns. Yet, the mystery continues, no information is available to the public. When lab results from ditch water and soil were requested from the County Public Works Dept., their response was, “To date, no discharges to receiving surface waters has occurred and the testing requirements have not been triggered. As a result, no water quality related laboratory test results exist which can be released.”
Yet, in a conversation with RWQCB Board members and staff, by Project Manager, John Waddell, the soil is “inert.”
Additionally, the county has requested a waiver to dump this water on land, as they are hearing from the public and others that dumping to the bay is not an acceptable solution. In their January 2013 waiver request they site that tests have been done saying, “Sampling and analysis of shallow groundwater at representative sites throughout the work area was completed for the county by Fugro Consultants on February 2, 2012. Samples were analyzed for a range of priority pollutants as well as salinity. All compounds tested were found to be below the state drinking water standards found in Title 22 of the CA Code of Regulations and the majority of the compounds were below detection limits.”
These tests were done prior to the “secret groundbreaking” on May 29, 2012, that Supervisor Gibson, his legislative assistant and the public works staff held, so as not to risk protests from the public. Avoiding the scene made at the original groundbreaking with the previous project headed by the recalled LOCSD Board in their highly publicized gold-shovel groundbreaking of the ill-fated Tri-W project, never to be installed.
If the soil and water are indeed “inert,” then one has to wonder how that is possible. This is the soil that is saturated with septic returns, otherwise known as human waste. At least that’s what has been asserted for decades.
I am not suggesting a sewer system is unnecessary in Los Osos, I am suggesting the pretense in which one is being built was flawed from the beginning. Groundwater management has always been at the root for the need of a sewer system. Capturing the wastewater from each home, treating it and reusing it has always made sense. Sadly, the current proposal doesn’t meet that need either. The County has failed to find a farmer who will stop using the potable drinking supply and opt for the unknown quality of the treated wastewater.
Additionally, the county has been notified of “heavy metals” in the water, yet the system that is being installed will not eliminate the pollution. Over $200 million will not accomplish what has been promised.
The county has failed to manage the construction of the project; cost overruns are just coming to light with millions of dollars unfolding only six months into the big dig.
Tom Salmon, is a longtime Los Osos resident with 35 years of expertise in statewide public infrastructure.