South County taking small steps toward recycled water

An aerial view of Pismo Beach.
An aerial view of Pismo Beach. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Pismo Beach’s ambitious regional water-recycling project is still likely several years away from completion, but South County agencies this month are beginning to take steps toward making it a reality.

Arroyo Grande signed on to the project via a letter of intent approved at its City Council meeting Jan. 10, while the Oceano Community Services District has said it supports the next steps toward realizing the much-needed water project, though it does not want to commit to the project without more details. Grover Beach is expected to consider signing a letter of intent at its meeting Feb. 9.

In 2015, Pismo Beach approved plans to move forward with a Regional Groundwater Sustainability Project that would examine how the Five Cities area could preserve and increase its water supply.

At first, the project was expected to upgrade just the Pismo Beach water treatment plant for “full advanced treatment with direct groundwater injection.” The plant treats about 1.1 million gallons of sewage per day to a secondary level and discharges that treated effluent into the ocean.

The new procedure would add a higher tertiary level of filtration and disinfecting so the effluent could be injected into the Santa Maria groundwater basin, from which much of the South County draws a portion of its drinking water.

Since then, however, the city and its regional partners (Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and the Oceano Community Services District) have begun pursuing a two-phase option that would upgrade both the Pismo Beach plant and the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District treatment plant, to maximize the amount of water being treated and recycled back into the groundwater.

The sanitation district plant treats about 2.88 million gallons of sewage per day, also to a secondary level.

The combined project could recycle up to 2,400 acre-feet of water per year, or about 782 million gallons.

An acre-foot of water is enough to serve three average households for a year.

Pismo Beach public works director Ben Fine said the next steps for the project are beginning the environmental impact review processes for upgrading both plants and developing a groundwater model for the entire Santa Maria groundwater basin that would help the cities develop a plan for groundwater injection. From there, the review and approval process will continue until construction can begin within the next few years.

“We’re still a little ways out,” Fine said. “But the project is starting to seem more real now.”

The letter of intent signed by Arroyo Grande promised it would reimburse its portion of the costs for the groundwater model study if anticipated grant funding falls through. It also promised the city would continue to work with its neighboring agencies to develop a management plan for the joint project.

Rather than signing the letter of intent, the Oceano Community Services District decided to draft an advocacy platform saying the board supported taking the next steps in making the project a reality (the environmental review process and groundwater model) but did not want to officially sign on to the project until it had more details on how it would benefit the region.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie