At a May 10 meeting regarding the Los Osos sewer situation, the Regional Water Quality Control Board opted to refrain from ordering 4,400 Los Osos property owners to stop using their septic systems by 2011 or face fines. Board members said they felt that the construction of a wastewater treatment center was moving in the right direction.
According to Harvey Packard, the board's enforcement coordinator, public comment at the meeting and a letter from county supervisors asking the board to hold off on the stop orders led to the decision that there was enough progress on the project to hold back on enforcement for the time being. Packard said that enforcement actions would resume if the county's project faltered, but said the board isn't going to push the county too fast.
"We're looking for continual progress from the county for a wastewater project," Packard said. "As long as that happens, we're happy."
Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who didn't attend the May 10 meeting, said he was very pleased with the results and hoped the water board would continue to hold off on the septic stop orders.
"It's the top priority on my list," Gibson said of a sewer system plan. "I feel we're making really good progress on the technical and community side."
Gibson and the county plan to release drafts for a potential wastewater treatment center at the board's July meeting in Watsonville, as well as a more detailed version at a September meeting in SLO.
Amid this progress, there's also a bit of a wrinkle. On April 13, the California Fish and Game Commission adopted regulations to create 29 new marine protected areas on the Central Coast, one of which lies in the Morro Bay Estuary.
In a press release, Commission President Richard Rogers said that the move was the first step toward returning ocean waters "to the place they used to be an ocean of sustainable abundance."
Adrianna Shea, commission staff for the California Fish and Game Commission, said that a sewer system at the proposed Tri-W location, in the heart of Los Osos near the bay, could conflict with the attempt to preserve the area and its species. She hopes to schedule a joint meeting with the California Ocean Protection Council later this summer to discuss water-quality concerns.
When asked about what effect the newly selected marine protected area could have on a possible Los Osos wastewater treatment site, Packard said that the county has some choices.
"The county has several potential locations, some of which might be out of town," he said. "If that's what happens, there's not too much to do with the marine reserve."
Whether or not a second sewer system is installed in the estuary, Shea believes Morro Bay is a unique place and should be treated that way.
"It's a very rare spot and extremely rare piece of earth," she said. "I'd like to see it protected, but I understand urban sprawl and growth will continue, so I don't know where the compromise should lie."