Paavo Ogren’s fictional presentation
September 30, 2013
Letter by Julie Tacker the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
At the September 17, 2013 San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors meeting, after considerable public comment, Director of Public Works, Paavo Ogren, gave an impromptu presentation to the Board. This item had not been agendized, no staff report or opportunity for the public to participate was given. The controversial subject; the Los Osos Waste Water Project, seawater intrusion and dewatering of construction ditches.
Ogren was there to counter the criticism the Board had been receiving every Tuesday this summer for dumping construction water into Morro Bay.
Using the overhead projector, Ogren provided a graphic depicting a cross section of the Los Osos Groundwater Basin. He then took a pen and circled an area known as Zone’s A and B, saying it was the “upper reaches of the upper reaches” of the aquifer, suggesting this was where dewatering is occurring.
Ogren’s presentation was deceiving; his circle pin pointed a monitoring well site in an area approximately 40 feet above sea level and approximately one quarter mile west of the construction zone and almost half a mile from the nearest dewatering operation.
Ogren, with Supervisor Gibson’s editorial support, tried to convince the board that the water currently being pumped from ditches and dumped to Morro Bay has no impact on the community’s depleted drinking water supply. At a recent meeting in Los Osos, Gibson was heard characterizing this quality water as “trash water.”
Dewatering is necessary to bury gravity collection system pipes in areas of high groundwater along the fringe of the Morro Bay, a National Estuary. In these areas, water can often be encountered less than one foot below the soils surface. The ditches must be void of water 18 inches below the bottom of the ditch to allow for gravel, pipe, backfill and compaction to occur. Some dewatering is taking place 20 feet below the soil surface and often below sea level.
Dewatering for construction of the project is not a surprise; the 2009 environmental impact report anticipated one million gallons a day would be encountered by the project. After permits were issued and construction bids were being solicited, in 2012 the County released a conceptual Dewatering Plan. This was the first time we (regulatory bodies and community members) were made aware that the project no longer was looking to dewater a million gallons a day; estimates had jumped tenfold. The county provided options for the contractors to discharge the dewatering water; Supervisor Gibson repeatedly assured Los Osos citizens discharges to the bay would be a “last resort.”
Potential damage to the basin is in the form of a missed opportunity. By pumping and dumping this quality water into the estuary, never to have a chance to recharge or beneficially use it. Other missed opportunities for beneficial reuse are discharges at the Broderson leach field, a multimillion dollar disposal facility built as part of the project and intended to accept treated wastewater once the project is complete. Use of this water is perfect to give it a test run. The Broderson site was chosen over other sites for wastewater disposal because of its proximity to the Los Osos aquifer. The eight acre site high enough on the hill to sit above perforated clay allowing for recharge into the lower confines of the basin. Intended to combat seawater intrusion, it is also expected that most of the disposal is anticipated to mimic the perched aquifers hydrology, keeping wetlands hydrated once septic flow cease.
The unintended consequences of this dewatering surrounds the health of the bay-fringe wetlands and the freshwater springs at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. No monitoring is taking place to determine if there are any changes taking place with regard to the health of these sensitive resource areas. Monitoring and mitigation of these special places was implied by permitting authorities, but detailed language requiring this best management practice was overlooked and the project management team is not doing anything beyond what is required by the letter of the permits issued.
Again, permitting authorities were not made aware of the change in volumes now expected to be dewatered.
Citizens and the LOCSD, our only elected body, have written letters to the Regional Water Quality Control Board asking that dewatering to the bay cease. No one has suggested the project stop, just recognize the failure and reprioritize the construction schedule to optimize beneficial reuse. Capture and reintroduce the water back into the ground, upslope, away from the bay where it will have a chance to percolate and perhaps make its way to the drinking supply. The largest threat to the Los Osos Groundwater Basin is irreversible seawater intrusion; to dump one precious drop of this construction water is a failure to protect the resource.
Ogren’s flair for fiction is no surprise; to mislead the powers that be, again, no surprise. Gibson, a geophysicist that knows how to read a cross section map, facilitating the farce outside an agenda, marginalizing the public, throwing them from the chambers; no surprise. To waste water is hugely unpopular, but if it’s Los Osos’ water, it’s not real or important water, its “trash water.”