Sewer upgrade contract awarded

Officials in Morro Bay and Cayucos are moving ahead with plans to upgrade the communities’ sewage treatment plant.

The engineering firm Montgomery, Watson and Harza was awarded a contract Tuesday to design the project. The upgrade is expected to cost $28 million and is due to be complete by March 2014.

The upgrade is required by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. Awarding the design contract keeps the project on schedule, said Bruce Keogh, wastewater treatment manager.

“We are still sticking to the time schedule we agreed to with the Regional Water Board,” he said.

The plant is located near Morro Bay High School and treats sewage from Morro Bay and Cayucos. It is operated through a joint powers agreement between Morro Bay and the Cayucos Sanitary District.

Montgomery, Watson and Harza was one of five applicants for the job. It was judged to be the best qualified firm, and a contract was negotiated, Keogh said.

It is the same firm that was hired to design a wastewater project in Los Osos. That project was stopped after a recall of the Los Osos Community Services District board of directors, and the county is now pursuing a new project.

Completing the upgrade will allow the two communities to retire one of the last discharge waivers in the state that allow partially treated sewage to be released into the ocean.

Ocean-discharge plants must treat their sewage to the secondary level. The waiver allows the Cayucos/Morro Bay plant to discharge some disinfected sewage during high-flow periods that has been treated to only the primary level.

A small percentage of the plant’s output is discharged using the waiver, but it put the plant at the center of a controversy with environmental and wildlife groups. Although no link was found, environmentalists said the plant could be contributing to high mortality rates among sea otters because of infectious disease.