WRAC and Roll
The Water Resources Advisory Committee met Saturday, April 4th in the BOS chambers to hear a presentation from the County on the Sewer Project. The WRAC is an appointed advisory committee of County-wide representatives who address water issues of all kinds throughout the county. The WRAC committee Chairman, Mr. Winn, made it clear throughout the meeting, that the WRAC was there to ONLY consider WATER issues .
Paavo Ogren, Mark Hutchinson, John Waddell, John Diodati gave updates on the project:
--Still looking for money. The RWQCB has redefined Los Osos as a “disadvantaged community” so it can qualify for low interest, 30 year loans. Congresswoman Capps will submit a waiver to help qualify the community for stimulus funds, if the WRDA allotments actually get funded, Los Osos is already in line for $35 mil, plus the County is still looking for other grants and funds available to help low income individuals, especially with hook-up costs.
--Even though tertiary treatment is not required by the RWQCB, the county is committed to tertiary – Title 22 treatment level. (The Coastal Commission DEIR response report is also clearly committed to mandating tertiary treatment.)
--As proposed, the County system is a “discharge” project (to avoid higher levels of treatment required if it were a “recharge” project and/or well placement issues, vados zone issues & etc. ) disguised as a “recharge” project, heh-heh, wink-nudge. (I mean, the whole idea was reuse to avoid overdrafting, hence the cute little quickstep. Tri-W was the same deal). Since the new project cannot handle full disposal all in one place (neither did Tri-W, according to Paavo, so that project still left to the future the problem of figuring out a way to avoid water loss to the Bay via leach-lines & etc), this project will start out as an EVAPORATION disposal method with a small amount being returned to the community for Heh-Heh, “Recharge.” But, while evaporating the wastewater, the project does put into place the “backbone” for future use, whether urban purple pipe or ag exchange/ag use since the treatment plant and return pipe will be laid down as part of the initial project. (A key point raised by Joy Fitzhugh, of the Farm Bureau, is making sure the treated water meets the “leafy vegetable” standard, that is can be sprayed on lettuce meant for human consumption. It does, which means local farmers, like those in Monterrey County, can use the water for their crops. A further point: the unused Tonini land can be leased out for grazing and/or row crops, with all that nice “unrestricted use” water right there, thereby increasing ag use from what it is now.) And, the return pipe will be in town for future purple pipe access.
--A comprehensive water conservation plan – low flow toilets, retrofit shower heads & etc – is a must for the whole community.
-- Richard Margetson again rose during public comment to note that the water use figures were way more than they actually are or should be, a concern expressed in the Coastal Commission’s report – that if the plant is sized to accommodate way more homes than are even planned on build out, what’s that extra capacity for? And does the county have the numbers wrong and what does that mean vis a vis plant capacity and/or cost?
--The semi-final EIR, with comments from the DEIR included, is now out and posted at www.lowwp-eir.net/lowwpeir/ or www.slocounty.ca.gov/pw/lowwp and click on the EIR report.
Some questions from the WRAC:
1. Who owns the wastewater? This one from Joy was really great. Turns out that the water purveyors own their water allotments, and sell it to the owner who then owns it until it’s flushed into county pipes at which point the County owns it. (The people who are putting the wastewater into those county-owned pipes are paying for the privilege.) May sound like a silly question, but “Unrestricted Use” Title 22, “waste/recycled” water is now and will become even more valuable a commodity as time goes on and our rainfall disappears and the aquifers dry up. So who owns it is critical because it can be sold twice, so to speak.
2. Even though the County owns that wastewater, they cannot legally tell people what to do with it, i.e. they can’t mandate ag reuse or demand purple pipe reuse (except on their own property) BUT they are committed to ensuring that up to 10% be committed to environmental use (wetland restoration, etc.) and 10% available to ag reuse, and the rest available to the water purveyors and community for use as needed and/or however the Judge who’s overseeing the various water rights litigation sees fit. (A large component of water re-use will remain with the water purveyors. If the basin isn’t balanced they’ll be out of business so all of them have to figure out a fair way to recharge the aquifers they’re using, re-position and re-drill their wells so as to reduce salt-water intrusion and etc. with the Judge overseeing the entire issue, a Judge who can rule if the parties don’t come to an agreement. And, of course, the water purveyors will charge their customers accordingly. Hence, there will be additional costs for this project as “waste” gets separated out from “water.”)
3. There were a variety of public comments. The Sustainablity Group turned in their report for the WRAC’s perusal. That report focused on keeping the entire basin balanced for the long term. If the WRAC reads that report, they certainly can bring back for discussion any of the ideas therein which they can then pass onto the BOS as recommendations for consideration.
The final Resolutions from the WRAC:
1. Recommend to the BOS the project go with “unrestricted use” Title 22 tertiary treatment.
2. Form a subcommittee to review the EIR and come back with any further recommendations.
3. Urge every water purveyor to start conservation programs right now, not wait until the project is completed several years from now.
And, finally, it wouldn’t be a Hideous Sewer Wars meeting without a fascinating kerfluffle.
One of the WRAC members proposed a motion that the WRAC recommend the BOS consider asking for an RFP for STEP be added to the short list (Oddly, there is NO STEP RFP proposal/ engineering firm on the short list, only gravity, despite promises that this would be a fair process that would let the best float to the top all the way through, & etc. Somebody clearly was there with a thumb on that list or a pair of scissors at the ready: 5 names? No, we don’t need no fifth name, heh-heh.)
Suddenly, there was that unmistakable sound -- ker-CHANG! Calmly, in a soft voice, Paavo pulled the WRAC’s chain: If the committee submits such a recommendation, he blandly stated, they’d better be prepared to declare its relevance to water issues. Ker-CHANG!!! Translation? The county has pre-selected gravity and will not tolerate any attempt to include STEP in any form. Big Dog has spoken, so these WRAC puppies better get back up on their porch.
After a few whimpering back and forths explaining the WATER concerns of gravity pipes vs. sealed STEP pipes in low ground WATER areas and such like, the committee members scuttled the motion and scampered up on the porch to safety.
After which, alternate WRACer, Linda Chipping, went up on the porch with a rolled up newspaper to whap them with a school-marmish voice reminding them that the recent survey made it clear that the overwhelming majority of those who completed the survey either preferred gravity, would pay extra for gravity or under no circumstances would accept anything BUT gravity, Whap! Whap! Whap!
The meeting was adjourned until further notice.