Ripley’s Night Out
Woa, heck of a party last night at the Community Center here in Sewerville. The team from Ripley Pacific presented the wastewater project update report. An executive summary is now on the Los Osos CSD website (http://www.losososcsd.org/) and the entire project report will be posted, with hard copies available to read in the CSD office.
Some highlights of the meeting and report.
-- Happily, a whole bunch of people came. This is good. The maps and schematic boards will be in the CSD office, so I hope everyone in the community will drop by to see them in more detail.
--In the executive summary, Ripley did a Comparison of Estimated Costs of Tri-W with the recommended STEP system. The numbers were based on the number of lots within the prohibition zone.
Base Capital & Land Cost: $179 million
Base Capital and Land Cost per lot: $37,362
Total Annualized Costs per month: $328.
Total Base Capital and Land Cost: $86 million (phase 1)
$100.25 million (phase 2, including about 800 homes
outside the PZ)
Base Capital and Land Cost per lot: $16,696 -- $16,908
Total annualized costs per month: $154.
The various stranded costs, including the millions of dollars the recalled Board pounded into the ground before the recall, subsequent lawsuits and fines, etc. will all have to be prorated and added to the proposed STEP system, if that becomes the selected project. Or added to any project that is ultimately selected. And, of course, inflation, actual bid versus guestimated costs, “surprise” non-competitive bids like what happened with the 40% over bids on Tri W, and other shockers.
Also not clear on the comparison sheet, is the sludge disposal costs from Tri-W. It doesn’t appear to be broken out separately in either chart and may be included in the general O&M costs. For Tri W, the annual (?) O&M costs are $2.6 million; STEP they’re $1.82 million. Those numbers will become more important later on . . . keep reading.
--Sludge was just one of those long-term costs that didn’t get a whole lot of discussion when Tri-W was being touted. It’s a future huge headache for everyone in the county since sludge disposal sites in the state are shutting down to “outsiders,” and so every county will have to come up with better ways to deal with the stuff onsite or in county.
Which means that people may really want to rethink about that septic tank out in their back yard. Whatever you may think about it, your septic tank is a nifty little sewage treatment plant churning away 24/7 digesting about 90% of all your biosolids. Which means you don’t have to pay big bucks to haul away, treat and dispose of it as you do at a typical, full collection, gravity-fed sewer plant. Big savings there on costs that are just going to keep going up as fuel costs rise.
--The proposed Ripley STEP plan would include replacing about 95% of the septic tanks with new, water-tight, larger tanks (suggested 1,600 – 1,800 gal tanks for an average 3 bedroom house). The tanks, pipes to the street, etc. would all be done as part of the whole package and would be maintained by an official Wastewater Entity, whether the County or CSD or whoever is in charge of the service. Rights of way easements would be the same as homeowners now have for power lines, cable, etc. Each tank would be fitted with a ½ horse power motor costing about $1 a month to run and a monitor that would signal the Systems Operator if there were any problems at any household needing attention or repair. In the case of a power outage, the tanks are designed to give a 24 hour holding capacity time. Longer, if water usage is reduced: i.e. in a power outage you wouldn’t be doing loads of laundry anyway. And since the whole step collection system is set up like a water pipe system, any break in the pipe can be shut off locally while re-routing the rest of the effluent.
-- STEP collection, being a smaller bore pipe, allows for microtunneling (avoiding the traditional deep (expensive) open trenching required of traditional gravity pipes.) It’s also possible that the pipes which the old CSD Board rushed to jam into the ground before the recall, could be reused by simply putting the smaller bore pipe sleeved inside (save digging up the street again) There would also be a fixed yard restoration fee as part of the overall project, to offset the effects of tank replacement. In addition, cluster collections tanks can be used for homes where the lots are too small to make tank replacement feasible or where tanks are simply not accessible for replacement without enormous cost. As with the Tri-W plan, in those cases, the old tanks would be filled and abandoned, the new tank buried in front yards or street rights of way, and the homes hooked up.
-- Since septic tanks are busy digesting solids 24/7, with the proposed STEP system, the liquid would be piped away for treatment and reuse, which means that there would no longer be a leach field to clog and fail, so no need for costly leach field failures and replacements and the tanks would only need to be pumped once every 12 – 15 years. More interesting, tanks sitting in high ground water can be turn-buckled to buried pre-cast beams called a “dead man,” which would hold even an empty, air-filled tank in place even if it were surrounded with high water. (Some folks expressed concern that tanks in high groundwater areas would pop up out of the ground. Not so.)
--The STEP system proposed lists about 4 suggested treatment plant designs, but doesn’t at this point, specify any particular one.
-- In winter, when ag water demand is down, the treated water would be stored in a 500 acre-ft reservoir on the out-of-town site, a sort of big, beautiful pond with ducks and cattail rushes and . . . ponds? . . . Did I say . . . er . . . ponds . . . wait . . . Oh, No. If this plan is accepted by the community, it looks like we’ll have ended up with a Faster! Better! Cheaper! STEP Ponds of Avalon system, pretty much like the one originally proposed by the Solutions Group, complete with water exchange, all at a lower cost than what the original Solutions Group ended up morphing into the hideously expensive, traditional gravity Tri W plant, which means the old CSD board would end up playing the role of the county and the new CSD board and the county would end up playing the role of the original CSD board . . . oh, Lord, now we’re meeting ourselves coming and going in a truly weird case of déjà vu all over again. But, I digress.
--The key ingredient in the Ripley plan is twofold: WATER, not sewage, and ENERGY. Instead of spending pots of money removing the nitrates from water, Ripley views those nitrates as a valuable asset that can be utilized by the farmers east of town. Treated to EPA, Title 22 standards, which are certified for unrestricted irrigation for all food crops, including being certified for use by organic farming, the nitrates left in the water are available for uptake by the plants, thereby saving the growers the expense of buying their usual supply of expensive fertilizer – this nitrogen would arrive for free in the water.
In return for receiving the nitrate-rich water, the farmers would cease pumping “drinking water” from the lower aquifer located under their lands. That water would then be available to be used as drinking water by Los Ososians, which will help lessen the overdraft now being placed on the wells west of town.
At this point, according to Dr. Sheikh, the preliminary report was met with hostility by the staff of the RWQCB. Apparently their point of concern is that they may believe that farmers receiving the nitrate-laden water are stupid enough to get nitrate-water and then go out and spend pots of money to BUY even more expensive nitrogen fertilizer to toss around thereby increasing the nitrate load up the valley. It is to be hoped that the staff will have a chance to talk with farmers both here and in Monterey county (same RWQC Board in both places, same wastewater/ag use, all approved by the same Board. Go figure.) and to take a look at the available nitrate/plant-uptake studies available that should show no appreciable nitrate loading.
-- The benefit of the water exchange is simple: You don’t use drinking water for irrigation. That would be like using bottled water to water your lawn. It’s hideously expensive and silly. You also don’t spend gazillions of dollars removing an expensive resource (nitrates) that is needed and required by plants when you can supply that water to farmers who then don’t have to go out and buy more expensive nitrogen fertilizer.
-- Instead of calling this plan “ag exchange,” what’s really happening is better described as “in lieu recharge.” Instead of spending pots of money removing nitrates in order to put the water back into the lower aquifer to be used as drinking water, you don’t pump the lower aquifer to use for farmland irrigation in the first place, thereby leaving that water to be used for drinking. Instead, you use the nitrate rich water, which crops need anyway, save buying extra fertilizer and save the deep well water for . . . drinking.
--Neither Tri W nor the Ripley Plan will “cure” seawater intrusion on their own. A clear county-coordinated Basin Water Plan has got to be in place, even though the county and/or the CSD can look at shifting well placements east of town and the private water purveyors west of town may have to do some serious re-thinking as well if they want to stay in business – i.e. if you’re suddenly pumping seawater, it’s too late to rethink. And the whole community has to get serious about water conservation measures – low flow toilets, showerheads, etc.
Ironically, while Tri-W was being touted for it’s “recharge” at the Broderson site, in reality only about 10% of that water would have actually reached the lower aquifer (the 90% having stepped down the clay lenses and out into the bay). Worse irony, with the speed of salt water intrusion moving east, it was now estimated by Dr. Sheikh, that the remaining 10% very likely would have ended up arriving at the lower aquifer at the same time the sea water did and so would have been wasted as well -- hence zero “recharge” from a sewer plant expensively sited in-town so as to aid in “recharge. Since the latest Cleath & Assoc. studies came after much of the Tri W plans were already set, it seems to be a perfect example of carts before horses and yet another reason why the proposed Ripley Plan appears to be a smart move: Phase in the plan so that as more information comes in later, you’re flexible enough in your plans, to make critical adjustments.
-- But to me, the most interesting part of the Ripley plan is his focus on ENERGY COSTS to remove nitrates from the upper aquifer and deliver an acre foot of water to your door. It’s been bandied about the media by people professing to know The Facts, that STEP uses more energy than regular gravity systems. The key fallacy of this “fact” can be seen in the comparison chart on kilowatt hour per acre foot to deliver clean water, charts which are in the Report (and noted farther down this blog.)
The focus by Ripley on energy costs is especially interesting when the same day as the Report’s presentation, the L.A. Times reported that PG&E was going to the PUC to ask for a rate increase. That, my fellow Los Ososians, is our future, in a nut shell. Higher and higher energy costs for everything from diesel/gas to power sludge-removing trucks, to electricity costs to remove nitrates from water and to move and treat that water, and to the availability of “state water” in the first place. Like it or not, global warming is here and weather patterns will be shifting in such a way as to make resources throughout the state very iffy indeed. That is why it’s critical that whatever plan this community decides on needs to be energy smart and water smart and resource smart. If it isn’t, this town will be eaten alive with O, M & R costs.
On P. 5 of the Executive Summary are the Approximate Energy Intensities (kWh/af ) i.e. kilowatts needed to deliver an acre foot of water without nitrates and water with nitrates:
MBR technology (Actual Tri W site with nitrates removed) = 3,200 kWh/af
MBR technology (non-ESHA site, no nitrates removed) = 2,500 kWh/af
Hybrid EA (actual Tri-W site, no nitrates removed) = 1,400 kWh/af
And the list continues on down.
In these comparisons, what’s the one resource that’s costing a lot of money to remove? Right, nitrates. And guess what needs and loves yummy nitrates in the form of nitrogen?
Yup, lettuce. And snow peas. And broccoli. And . . .
So, as of now, the report is delivered. It’ll be available to the public, the County engineers, RWQCB staff and Board, State Water Board staff and will go for peer review as part of the update contract. The full report will then go into the mix of whoever/whatever has control of the Wastewater Project. Ultimately, what system gets built will depend on “science” and economics and the public’s selection of the system they’re willing to pay for.
Naturally, being Los Osos, “politics,” is scuttling into the mix. I can already hear the scuttling in the underbrush as the Sewer Jihadis on both sides of the issue start their campaigns of hidden agendas, distortion and disinformation, spin, hype, counter-hype, PR Marketing-Speak, and, uh, “facts” as malleable and changeable as the wind. Ah, busy, busy, busy. As usual.
Which is why citizens, who are going to be footing the bill for whatever project gets built, need to pay attention and connect the dots very carefully.
Speaking of which, at the August 3 CSD meeting, the Board passed – 5 – 0 – a Resolution “Rescinding the Statement of Overriding Considerations Adopted in 2002 for the LOCSD Wastewater Treatment Project.” The resolution is available at the CSD office. I suggest everyone in town read it.
In March 2001, the previous Board voted to reject the environmentally superior siting alternative found in the original EIR and adopted a Statement of Overriding Considerations (SOC) that certified that “various benefits of the Project outweighed its unavoidable adverse environmental impacts.”
The Resolution continues that “In the five (5) years since the [previous] Board’s certification of the FEIR, significant new information has been obtained that warrants reconsideration and rescission of the SOC. Such information includes (but is not limited to) that [was] developed and presented by the Ripley Pacific Team and the research firm Cleath and Associates. This information includes but is not limited to, the following: . . . .” and goes on to list, among other things, that the claim that the Tri-W site provided “a cost effective wastewater management solution” was shown to be untrue, that “a Tri-W wastewater treatment facility ‘improves local groundwater quality’ is misleading, therefore, this claim was misidentified as an ‘overriding benefit,’” . . . that “a Tri –W wastewater treatment facility ‘creates a cultural amenity’ has been shown to be untrue . . .”, that “the SOC’s statement that the “Tri-W wastewater treatment facility ‘reduces saltwater intrusion’ is misleading,” and so forth.
The thrust of the document is that newer information (carts before horses?) now indicates “ . . . that substantial changes have occurred with respect to the circumstances under which the District previously rejected the environmentally superior alternatives of STEP/STEG collection, hybrid treatment and the siting of the Project’s wastewater treatment facility outside the Community and instead selected gravity collection terminating at the Tri-W Site and that those changes will require major revisions of the previously certified FEIR as a prerequisite to siting the Project’s wastewater treatment facility at the Tri-W Site. In addition, the alternatives of STEP/STEG collection, hybrid treatment and locating the Project’s wastewater treatment facility outside the Community, identified as the environmentally superior alternatives in the FEIR, are, in fact, feasible.
“As a final point, there are no economic, legal, social, technological, or other beneficial aspects associated with siting the Project’s wastewater treatment facility at the Tri-W Site sufficient to support a rejection of the environmentally superior siting alternatives.”
Why is this an interesting resolution? Because CEQA rules do not allow a public agency to reject “an environmentally superior project alternative unless that agency: A) Makes certain specified findings that are supported by substantial evidence, and B) Adopts a statement of Overriding Considerations (“SOC”)”
And if there really isn’t substantial evidence supporting a SOC, then making such a claim is basically misrepresenting the facts and can, alas, lead to charges of “bait and switch,” or bamboozling government agencies such as the Board of Supervisors, the Planning Dept, the Coastal Commission, and even the Regional Water Quality Control Board, not to mention the State Water Board.
I don’t think much good can come of doing that sort of thing. But then, that’s just my opinion.
And finally, at that same meeting, it was announced that the CSD would retain the services of a law firm expert in Municipal Bankruptcy issues. This is good.
Now, have a wonderful weekend.