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Test facility in Pismo Beach turns wastewater into drinking water — and it 'tastes great!'

South County gets its first taste of wastewater recycled into drinking water

Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Oceano and Grover Beach are celebrating a pilot project that purifies wastewater to drinking standards. The project, named Central Coast Blue, is aimed at creating a drought-proof water supply.
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Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Oceano and Grover Beach are celebrating a pilot project that purifies wastewater to drinking standards. The project, named Central Coast Blue, is aimed at creating a drought-proof water supply.

How does recycled wastewater taste? Apparently, great.

At least that's according to the dozen or so elected officials who gathered Tuesday, raising a glass filled with water purified at the Pismo Beach Wastewater Treatement Plant and toasting the latest achievement in a years-long process to bring recycled water to South County.

"This is an exciting opportunity for us to show that we can take wastewater and conserve it to potable water," Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage said in a ceremony before the tasting.

After he took his first sip? "Tastes great!" he laughed

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From left, city managers raise a toast Tuesday before drinking purified water from Pismo Beach's new recycling facility: Matthew Bronson of Grover Beach; Jim Bergman of Arroyo Grande and Jim Lewis of Pismo Beach along with Arroyo Grande Councilwoman Kristen Barneich. Five Cities’ community leaders were in Pismo Beach for the ribbon-cutting and opening of Central Coast Blue, a new advanced water purification demonstration facility. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Waage and mayors from Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach, as well as officials from the Oceano Community Services District and various city councils, all tested the water that went through an advanced three-step filtration process at the plant, making it safe to drink.

Central Coast Blue launched its demonstration facility this year to show the public how recycled water works on a smaller scale while a larger regional wastewater recycling project is in the design phase.

The set-up is relatively simple — treated wastewater goes through a three-step cleaning process, starting with microfiltration to remove particles and microorganisms in the water, then followed by reverse osmosis to clean out dissolved solids, contaminants and pathogens. Finally, it goes through ultraviolet disinfection and advanced oxidation to break down any remaining microorganisms and clean out toxins from the prior filtration processes.

This makes water that would normally be discarded into the ocean safe to inject back into the ground, so that it can then replenish the groundwater.

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South County community leaders, including Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage, left, and Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals, spoke at the ribbon cutting and opening of Central Coast Blue, the new advanced water purification demonstration facility seen in background. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The demo facility has the capacity to recycle approximately 58,000 gallons of water per day. It was funded by IDE Technologies, an Israeli water desalination company, that partnered with Five Cities leaders to test out the process.

According to a news release, IDE Technologies is a recognized world leader in water treatment solutions and specializes in the development, engineering, construction and operation of some of the world’s largest and most advanced thermal and membrane desalination facilities and industrial water treatment plants.

This demonstration facility is just a taste of things to come.

"This is a pilot program, but the real payoff is when we get through all of the permitting, location siting and so forth for the final prize, which is recycled water for South County," Waage said.

Pismo Beach first announced plans for its massive water recycling project in 2015, while the county was in the midst of one of the worst droughts on record. Though the drought has since been declared over, plans for the project have continued to move forward.

The Central Coast Blue project is a unified effort between multiple agencies, including Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District and the Oceano Community Services District.

"We have worked together on transit, on air, on recreation, on air pollution, so we've got a history of working together, and this is an exciting opportunity to continue that culture of working together for shared goals based upon our shared beliefs and vision," Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals said. "Central Coast Blue is gonna allow us to move forward, and lets us take charge of our water destiny."

South County agencies including Pismo Beach, Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande have bonded together to form Central Coast Blue, a regional recycled water project that aims to increase the area's available water supply by 30 percent.

Once completed, it will treat wastewater to be re-injected back into the groundwater basin; this will give an additional source of drinking water to residents in the South County, as well as help prevent seawater intrusion into the Santa Maria groundwater basin.

"This is a great day for the South County — I'm so proud to be here representing the city of Arroyo Grande and our stake in Central Coast Blue," Mayor Jim Hill said. "We're really excited about the potential of Central Coast Blue. This is a project that has taken a long time to get here."

The larger, permanent facility could increase municipal groundwater supplies by 30 percent and reduce the amount of treated wastewater discharged into the ocean by 77 percent. It is expected to begin construction in 2021.

The endeavor won't be cheap: Price estimates have varied widely depending on the size and scope of the project, but initial estimates placed it at around $29.7 million. Some of that could be paid for through grants.

Meanwhile, the temporary demo facility will remain up and running for the next year, giving project leads the opportunity to examine a working water recycling process as they design the larger, permanent facility.

For those interested in seeing how recycled water works, the demonstration facility is open to the public by appointment for the next year. To schedule a visit, go to centralcoastblue.com.

"I would invite everyone to come down and learn about this technology, and see that we can recycle water and end the threat of drought that has been hanging over the area for a long time," Hill said. "Invite your friends, and spread the word about Central Coast Blue."

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928; @kaytyleslie
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