Morro Bay is on the wrong track with its expensive water reclamation project

The city of Morro Bay is planning for a new sewer/water reclamation plant. Not all residents are on board with the latest  proposal.
The city of Morro Bay is planning for a new sewer/water reclamation plant. Not all residents are on board with the latest proposal.

Morro Bay City Councilmember Robert Davis’ May 7 viewpoint on the city’s proposed Water Reclamation Facility project is full of deceptive and misleading statements. What is important about every single statement in Mr. Davis’ viewpoint is not what he says, but what he doesn’t say. Here are three examples:

1. Mr. Davis claims the city was responsive to a community member request to have a group of outside experts look at the project. What he does not say is that the project manager’s June 29, 2017, report on the peer group workshop includes many outside expert comments unfavorable to the current project, including:

  • “The proposed combined water/sewer rate of $250/month seems untenable in the context of average Citywide household income of $50K—about 6% of annual income, which is approximately double the EPA’s affordable index. “

  • “Why bother building at SBB, because the lift station at the current site will be vulnerable…still have raw sewage going into the ocean if the lift station fails…what is gained by doing this?”

  • “The biggest contributor to cost at the South Bay Boulevard (SBB) site is the site itself. Pipeline and earthwork costs there are very high. The most effective way to reduce construction cost is to go back to near or on the existing WWTP site.”

  • “Reliance on State Water is a paramount problem facing the City. If the City wants to achieve water independence cost effectively, and in a timely manner, the most effective approach is to build a new compact plant at or near the current WWTP location.”

  • “SBB site is another Los Osos in the making. Re-evaluate.”

2. Mr. Davis says the city looked into removing reclamation from the project to save money.

What Mr. Davis does not say is that the city DID remove reclamation from the project — and later put it back in without informing the public of its intentions. At the April 26, 2017 City Council meeting, the city voted to remove reclamation (motions and votes for item C-1). This was reported by The Tribune in its April 26, 2017, article, “Morro Bay decides to go with less expensive sewage treatment facility option” by Nick Wilson.

How did reclamation get back into the project?

Sept. 26, 2017, council meeting minutes for item C-2 show the council having second thoughts about removing reclamation because would make it harder to get Federal loans. On Oct. 24, 2017, the city quietly sneaked reclamation back into the project during discussions of agenda item C-4, the subjects of which were “ 1. Refinement of the established community goals that guide the overall WRF Project 2. WRF project RFQ and approve for advertisement”

Mr. Davis also failed to mention the fact that in Dec., 2017, the city received a solid and viable vendor proposal to build a plant that would include tertiary treatment and cost $60 million less than the city’s pet project. Residents were never informed of this opportunity which the City appears to have ignored.

3. Mr. Davis says the city talked to the California Coastal Commission about keeping the plant at the current location. What he does not say is that members of Morro Bay Citizens for Affordable Living and other concerned community members were not invited to participate in that discussion, meaning the city’s communication with the Coastal Commission was one-sided.

Had concerned residents been invited to participate in the discussion, they would have reminded Coastal Commission staff that things have changed a great deal since 2013.

That year, according to city of Morro Bay documents, the estimated cost of the water reclamation facility was $34.3 million, and Morro Bay had a partner, Cayucos, to help pay for the project. Now, Cayucos is not there to share the cost, which has climbed to $150 million and expected rates are close to double the EPA’s affordability index.

Had concerned residents been allowed to participate, they would have asked Coastal Commission staff to consider whether, given the current situation, the commission would make the same decision it made back in 2013 and would have asked that the matter be brought back for reconsideration, but they were excluded from the discussion.

In conclusion, Mr. Davis says “I believe the council, city staff and consultants are on the right track."

No, Mr. Davis, you’re on the wrong track. The city can build a water reclamation facility with the funds approved by residents in 2015, but it obviously isn’t going to do that voluntarily. The only way for Morro Bay residents to get the city back on the right track is to stop any further rate increases through a successful Proposition 218 protest vote.

Linda Stedjee is a long-time Morro Bay resident and activist who recently relocated to France.
Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune