Morro Bay working to localize water supply

May 10, 2016

By John Lindt, publisher of Sierra 2 the Sea

Morro Bay currently gets about 87 percent of its drinking water from the State Water Project, but now the city is looking to desalination and aquifer recharge to replace imported water.

Instead of counting on uncertain and perhaps unreliable imported water in the future, on May 10, the Morro Bay City Council is scheduled to discuss utilizing a “diversified portfolio.” Although residents currently use about 1075 acre-feet a year, the new plan would produce 1200 acre-feet of water a year to meet growth needs.

The largest portion of water would be from water reclaimed from wastewater. However, plans to build the city’s new wastewater treatment facility have been waylaid by arguments over where to locate the facility.

Of the city’s planned future water supply, 1000 acre feet would come from the city’s planned water reclamation facility and 250 acre feet would come from the city’s desalination plant.

The city is seeking to use its desalination plant on a permanent basis, according to a staff report. To do that, it needs the Coastal Commission’s approval. In August, the  Coastal Commission is scheduled to meet in Santa Cruz and discuss the issue.

In the future, the changes could save city residents on their water bills. Future projections suggest state water will cost Morro Bay about $3 million a year for 1200 acre feet, while the two local sources will cost about $1 million a year. The cost of state water is expected to rise once new tunnels in the delta area are built.

In addition to Morro Bay,  multiple California communities are looking at developing local water sources.

Santa Barbara’s desalination plant is scheduled to begin supplying nearly 3 million gallons of water per day in October. This is equivalent to 3,125 acre-feet of water annually or about 30 percent of the city’s water usage. At an additional expense, the city has the option to expand the facility, up to the permitted capacity of 10,000 acre-feet of water annually.

There is also a new desalination facility in Carlsbad near San Diego that is operational. In addition, about 15 other desalination sites are being proposed throughout California.


Ocean water and reclaimed sewer water….hmmmmmm may improve the taste of Morro Bays water…..


The title of this article should be “Morro Bay Working to Jeopardize Water Supply”. State Water has been a reliable source of water for Morro Bay.


Something definitely has to be done, because State water is just not reliable. Contrary to what some claim, the Morro Bay has NOT always gotten all the water it needed from the State, and it is highly likely that there will be significant problems in the future.

For example, In late 2009, the City got word that drought conditions might mandate reduction of the City’s 2010 water allocation to just 5% of the amount that had been anticipated. Look at the City’s water production reports for January and February of 2010. All the water came from wells and desal, and NONE from the State.

Drought isn’t the only problem that makes State water unreliable. The State’s water delivery system is old, dilapidated, and vulnerable to earthquakes.

According to the State Water contractors’ Web site, “The U.S. Geological Survey has warned of a 63 percent probability that a 6.7 magnitude or larger earthquake will hit in the next 30 years. An earthquake of that size has the power to not only devastate local communities, but wipe out a significant portion of the state’s water supply for more than a year.” and, “The water supply for 25 million people, businesses and farms is channeled by old and fragile levees built 100 years ago. A major earthquake in Northern California could trigger levees to break throughout the Delta, allowing saltwater to rush in from the San Francisco Bay contaminating a significant portion of our freshwater supply.”

In January, 2011, State Water Project contractors got a notice that said, “Due to continuing issues with the recruitment and retention of sufficient skilled trades and crafts personnel, aging equipment, and unexpected equipment failures, DWR was not able to export over 100,000 acre-feet of additional water that was available for export since December. This has caused a delay in the filling of the San Luis Reservoir and will impact overall allocation of water in 2011.”

That same year, one of those “unexpected” State Water Project equipment failures occurred during Labor Day weekend had City staff scrambling, and almost left Morro Bay without water. As reported in a local paper, some of the State’s huge pumps failed, and the supply system went offline.

I share the concerns about possible residues of sewage in reclaimed water. However, the dirty little secret that many don’t know is that we already have a problem with sewage in the water supply.

Sewage leaking from Morro Bay’s dilapidated sewer system has been finding its way to our Morro Basin municipal wells for years. Tests done not long ago prove that. However, when confronted with the evidence, the Water Board said this is a common problem, and as long as the City has a supply of potable water, they will take no action.


The REAL “dirty little secret” is that Irons’s and his council haven’t a clue how to run city of Morro Bay.



Francesca Bolognini

It never ceases to amaze me how the first answers that are sought for the water problem are always the most expensive, complicated, fallible and environmentally unsound. Expensive is the key here, as someone is always making $$$,$$$,$$$ at the taxpayers’ expense.

I draw your attention to the desal/reclaimation plant in Cambria. This was designed, built and installed by companies that are represented by a legal firm (which specializes in defeating environmental law for developments) of which a prominent member of the Cambria CSD is a senior partner. NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST THERE. Now that we have the thing, which was sold to the residents as a $1,000,000 temp. offshore “emergency” measure, morphed magically into around $12,000,000 permanent project that only partially “works”, spews toxins into the air next to the San Simeon camp ground, has killed substantial wild life and magically we now have ChromeVI (hexavelent – think Love Canal) and lead in our water that was not previously present and …….wait or it……our bills went up! In the mean time, our CCSD General Manager thinks he should get an almost 40% retroactive raise for accomplishing this “miracle” and be paid the equivalent of the manager in Montecito. Yup! Montecito, that place outside Santa Barbara where some of the wealthiest people in the country have their estates. He and his wife moved to Hidden Valley, because she has “allergies” . My guess is that they are both “allergic” to drinking recycled water that now has more toxic chemicals and possibly lots of other things, such as disease and recycled medications that our water supply did not previously contain. Oh yes! and the added bonus: even though we, the residents, who pay them, are still on restricted use, they have opened up the water list for further development. So much for the “only for emergencies” line.

I will wind this up by suggesting that there are many, many ways to improve a water supply that do not include recycling and desal. New Times April 21 – 29 had a great article on some of the efforts now being considered and implemented. There is Off Stream storage, which reverses the trend started in the late 1800’s to facilitate fast run off of water from land, which allows more water to seep into the aquifer and recharge it naturally. This is actually GOOD for the environment and wildlife. The same could be achieved even more naturally by re-introducing BEAVERS. They do the same thing, slowing the courses of water and enriching the land and the aquifer. We used to have them here up until the 1960’s. And as I like to say, “Beavers do it for free” (you can quote me!) Besides these no-brainers, there are gray water systems, rainwater reclamation, bioswales to channel runoff onto land instead of down a gutter into the ocean, and more.

Before you allow yourselves to be frightened or coerced into high tech, high ticket “solutions”, look seriously into the alternatives that work well elsewhere where there is even less rain than we enjoy..

Jorge Estrada

Thank you, interesting info on recycled water. I forgot to consider hormones and all that other stuff.


If you haven’t already done so, please go to a Council meeting and publicly cover the alternative water supply ideas you describe. They seem to pay more attention to public comment than written information.. If there are other communities using these methods successfully, please provide the details.

Please also ask them to fix the sewer system that is polluting the aquifer and our wells. The tests I mentioned in another post clearly showed that the water coming in from the part of the aquifer east of town is not polluted with sewage. That pollution happens here.

Enhancing the available quantity of water doesn’t mean much if you don’t do anything to protect the quality.

Francesca Bolognini

Off stream storage is the way Nature did things before we came along and “improved” things. Off stream storage is the way water enhancement occurs in most of the rest of the world. It is a no brainer that the water falling in the hills is cleaner than that in the basin where development has taken place and we are polluting the crap out of it.

Since my piece pertains to Cambria, where I am a resident, I could not influence the proceedings in Morro Bay. I certainly have addressed the Cambria CSD, as have many others and they blew us off. Their manner usually varies from condescending to rude. They have been elected with real estate money by voters who are new to the area and are easily manipulated by the fear (sand coming out of the taps!) and guilt (those of us who prefer sustainability are “draw bridge mentality-even though the town has tripled in size since I moved here) and the promise that we will have “economic growth”. Ha. There are more empty businesses than ever down town.

There is a great deal of corruption in these CSD situations, given the amount of money to be made from development, appropriate or not. Given the value of the remaining undeveloped areas, it will only get worse as more and more of it is eaten up by “progress” that we cannot sustain. But you likely already know that!


Only in Morro Bay (maybe Los Osos as well), do you have such short sighted thinking.

build a desal plant, then never use it, or get it properly permitted, or have the funds to operate it. It’s simply remarkable that the citizens seem all too happy to let the city function such an inefficient manner decade after decade.


With Jamie Irons and the current city council, Morro Bay is the new Los Osos. Just look how much jamie’s request to the Coastal Commission to withdraw our plans to locate the sewer in the same general location has cost the taxpayers. Also, we’ve lost Cayucos as a partner and they’re farther along in their project than we are.

Now they’re on the path to eliminating the one source that Morro Bay has been able to count on. They spend money, that they don’t have, to come up with plans that won’t work. Disincorporation will be the next thing on the list. First, they will contract out for police and fire services. Then, they’ll try to get their hands on the Harbor Fund so they can spend it foolishly. It’s sad to see such a small group people destroy what it took others decades to build.


The state water portion of this story makes no sense. Maybe the author doesn’t understand how it works.

Morro Bay has contracted to purchase state water and owes long-term debt for its share of the state system, the coastal aqueduct and the pipeline that deadends at Morro Bay. They have to pay for that no matter what, so how do they get out of the money state water “costs” by shifting to local sources?

Most likely, they’ll have to pay for the dry-source “state water” AND also for their local water source costs — unless they can unload their share of this non-source of water by selling it to some fool. The people of Morro Bay are entirely to blame for this mess — they voted to take “state water.” The people of SLO were smarter, and voted not to take it, thus saving themselves from having to pay for a totally unreliable “source” of grief.

That said, the leaders in Morro Bay today seem smarter than those in SLO if they’re talking about using recycled water as a primary source. In SLO, they can’t see beyond watering the golf course with it.

Jorge Estrada

Since SLO consumes about 5,000 acre-feet a year, it might be wise to pipe that reclaimed water to the Morro Bay’s de-salt plant. This series of recycling can go northwards through the succession of communities until it get’s consumed at Hearst Castle, where the tourists can savor the Central Coast.


On another note, State Water for Morro Bay was the result of a citizen’s initiative and a vote of the people. Any future change in this decision will require a vote of the citizen’s.


This is a bad idea. Morro Bay has gotten 100% of the water it needs from the State Water Project even during the drought except for the 2 week shutdowns annually for maintenance. Anyone who turns down any option for future water isn’t thinking clearly.

As far as the proposed “water reclamation facility”, you can’t reclaim water that you don’t have. No one seems to be aware of this. And anyone who thinks this City Council is going to save them money should have their head examined.