Los Osos sewer contractor dumping millions of gallons of water into Morro Bay
September 24, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Every three days, contractor W.A. Rasic dumps more water into Morro Bay than an Olympic-size pool can hold. It’s part of the Los Osos Wastewater Project, putting in a sewer system for the area.
As workers dig trenches for the sewers, groundwater rises to fill them. The water has to be removed for work to continue, and Rasic is responsible for getting rid of the water. Rasic takes the water and dumps it into storm drains that lead to Morro Bay.
But, where that water has been going has drawn criticism from the Los Osos Community Services District (LOCSD) and Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. Both have said that the water should not be dumped in the bay. Instead, the water, which could be drinkable with only minor treatment, should be allowed to filter back into the Los Osos aquifer.
“It’s unfortunate the county didn’t plan well enough in advance to use the water in some beneficial way,” said longtime Los Osos resident Jeff Edwards.
The dumping of the water into the bay comes amid a major water shortage in Los Osos. Aside from light drizzle Saturday, it hasn’t rained in Los Osos since spring.
Since 2007, the county has reported the supply of water in the Los Osos Groundwater Basin to be of Level III severity. Level III is the most severe shortage in the county’s Resource Management System. In a 10-year span between 2002 and 2012, water usage in Los Osos declined by approximately 40 percent, according to the county’s 2013 resource management report.
The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board directed the county not to discharge to the bay without first exhausting all land discharge options and gaining approval from the water board.
“The county may discharge to Morro Bay only after the Central Coast Water Board agrees that land disposal options are infeasible,” water board director Kenneth Harris wrote in an August 7 letter to the county public works department.
But, Rasic began discharging water to the bay in early August without approval from the board and prior to the completion of a network of pipes that would transport the water to a leach field, where it could soak back into the aquifer.
Water board staff member David LaCaro confirmed with CalCoastNews last week that the board never gave the county approval to discharge to the bay.
“There hasn’t been any formal letter agreeing to the discharge,” LaCaro said.
As Rasic continues to discharge to the bay, the county still has not completed construction of piping to the 8-acre Broderson leach field, which is expected to serve as a discharge location for recycled water when the sewer is operational.
LaCaro said poor planning on the part of the county accounts for the dewatering beginning prior to the completion of the piping.
“For the most part, it was an ill conceived plan, and we weren’t privy to their construction scheduling,” LaCaro said.
Two weeks prior to the beginning of the dewatering, Rasic submitted a plan to the water board that listed pumping into Morro Bay as “Option 1” among four proposals for discharging the water. The plan also stated that Rasic would only pipe the water to Broderson, or another basin, if it did not pass environmental quality tests.
In addition to the water board, the LOCSD Board of Directors has likewise criticized the county for not completing the piping to Broderson prior to beginning the dewatering project.
“The fact that the Broderson facility/infrastructure is not available for discharge is a planning issue and not a viable excuse for water surface discharge,” wrote LOCSD Board President Leonard Moothart in a September 11 letter to the water board.
In the letter, Moothart requested that the water board stop all discharge to the bay and order the county to expedite completion of the Broderson field in order to discharge to land.
The LOCSD also suggested using county owned drainage percolation basins as alternative land discharge locations and, if necessary, trucking the water to the basins.
At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who represents Los Osos, and Public Works Director Paavo Ogren criticized the LOCSD board for suggesting alternatives to discharging to the bay.
Ogren said that trucking water would cause considerable traffic and pollution. He also said dewatering of trenches must occur in order to lay the piping to Broderson.
But, Ogren did not say what is taking so long to do so. Neither Ogren, nor Gibson responded to CalCoastNews emails asking why the piping is not complete and why the contractor is discharging to the bay.
LaCaro said cost, as well as timing and power usage, factor into the county’s decision to discharge to the bay.
From the beginning of August through early September, Rasic dumped approximately 250,000 gallons of water a day that it pumped out of the ground in Los Osos, according to self-reported figures.
In comparison, an Olympic-sized pool holds 660,000 gallons of water. For every three days of its first month of dewatering, Rasic, on average, dumped more water into Morro Bay than Olympic-sized pool could hold.
As construction speeds up and rainy season begins begins, the amount discharged will likely increase. County dewatering plans have discussed the possibility that Rasic could pump 8 million gallons per day.
In compliance with its project permit, Rasic ordered laboratory tests of the water it is pumping into Morro Bay. Environmental analysis firm Fruit Growers Laboratory conducted the tests and determined that the water being pumped only needs minor treatment to achieve drinking level quality.
LOCSD water rates put a price tag of $30,000 on 1 million gallons of water. Over the course of the dewatering project, the county could waste millions of dollars of water. If pumping increases to 1 million gallons a day, it will take a little more than a month to dump $1 million worth of water.
Some public comment speakers at Board of Supervisors meetings have suggested that the county has approved dumping to the bay because it is cheaper than piping to basins and the wastewater project is costing more than expected.
Observers of the dewatering project have also suggested the possibility of piping water aboveground to Broderson or to county or privately owned percolation basins. Aboveground pipes are currently in place on El Morro Avenue, where they connect several blocks of wells.
LaCaro said the water board is still determining whether it is actually not feasible for the contractor to pump the water onto land. He also said the board is determining what, if any, water quality impacts the current method of discharge is creating.
If regulators determine that the water discharge to the bay is harming the ecosystem of the Morro Bay National Estuary, the county could face hefty fines.