Faced with public opposition to building a $167 million proposed new sewage treatment plant and water recycling facility in Morro Bay, the City Council has opted for a less expensive project that delays water reclamation.
After a four-hour discussion Tuesday — including comments from several public speakers who supported keeping costs down — the council voted 3-2 to phase in a water recycling facility in the future.
“I’m in favor of retaining the water reclamation goal, but I’m supportive of the phased approach because of the cost to the community,” Mayor Jamie Irons said.
Council members John Headding and Robert “Red” Davis dissented.
The council also directed staff to re-examine project costs estimated by its consultant, Arroyo Grande-based MKN & Associates, by seeking peer review from neighboring public agencies.
The city says it hopes to complete its new wastewater treatment plant by June 2021 at its preferred, 30-acre site near the intersection of Highway 1 and South Bay Boulevard.
A Morro Bay plant that just treats wastewater — without a water recycling facility — would cost between $123 million and $136 million, depending on the quality of treatment.
The council is moving forward with a plant that uses either secondary or higher-quality tertiary wastewater treatment. Secondary treatment consists of biological breakdown of wastewater without filtration, and tertiary treatment includes a more refined filtration process, said Mike Nunley, the city’s consultant on the project planning.
A plant with secondary treatment would increase sewer and water rates to $207 per month, from about $150 per month — the phased-in rate that will be in effect in about two years.
A project with water recycling would cost ratepayers $241 per month. Rates for a tertiary treatment project haven’t been analyzed yet.
Morro Bay resident Ed Griggs said the city should be minimizing its costs, not expanding them with a higher-end water recycling system.
“I am on a fixed income,” Griggs said. “I’m a disabled veteran, and I take care of a disabled son. The concept of paying over $200 per month for water and sewer — I just can’t wrap my mind around that when I think about my future and my son’s future.”
I’m in favor of retaining the water reclamation goal, but I’m supportive of the phased approach because of the cost to the community.
Jamie Irons, Morro Bay mayor
Councilman Davis supported the idea of a self-sufficient water supply in Morro Bay, eliminating reliance on state water.
“I’m not willing for this city to face a water emergency some years in the future and have our children look back and wish that we had paid ($34 extra) per month for recycled water and water independence when we had the chance to do it,” Davis said.
He suggested using money from a PG&E settlement relating to the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to help low-income residents cover costs.
Ultimately, the council was swayed by several speakers who said they would feel the burden of significantly higher rates.