Sewage clean-up for Morro Bay finally wins approval



After years of delays and growing pressure from environmental groups, local residents, and Sacramento officials in Morro Bay and Cayucos have voted unanimously to clean up their sewage to the highest quality.

A standing-room-only crowd at a May 24 meeting of the Morro Bay-Cayucos Joint Powers Authority paraded to the podium to plead for tertiary treatment of the coastal communities' wastewater. That level of treatment would allow the water to be reclaimed for future irrigation uses, rather than be discharged into the ocean.

Cayucos representatives voted May 24 in support of tertiary treatment to be implemented along with a plant upgrade by 2014, and on May 29 the Morro Bay City Council also voted unanimously in favor of high-level treatment.

The existing sewage treatment plant on Atascadero Road in Morro Bay is one of the last in California to operate with a waiver from federal clean water standards. During high-use periods in summer, it's currently allowed to discharge primary treated sewage into the ocean a half-mile offshore from Morro Strand beach.

"Things are looking up for fans of water quality, human and otherwise," local Sierra Club coordinator Andrew Christie said after the vote.

"We're very pleased," said attorney Anjali Jaiswal of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who's been working since 2003 to persuade local officials to clean up the sewage discharge.

"With one vote, Morro Bay and Cayucos have moved from the back of the line to the front of the line for clean water. It's a great victory for the community, for clean water, for protecting public health, for marine life, and for the local economy," she added.

Engineering reports presented to the Morro Bay City Council show that the cost will be an extra $1 a month per household to clean to the tertiary level, which involves extra filtration of the treated wastewater. But millions of dollars of state grant funding, under Proposition 50 and Proposition 84, are now available to help cover the costs of reclaiming and reusing water.

"The subject of water reclamation is a complex subject, with numerous issues to evaluate," stated a staff report to the Morro Bay City Council. Councilmembers said there's still time to study the different types of tertiary treatment which could be implemented, depending on the end use of the water.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Ocean Protection Council has invited representatives from Morro Bay and Cayucos to its June 14 meeting in San Francisco to discuss the decision.

"We applaud you for stepping up to this challenge. In making your decision, we urge you to protect the ocean as best you can as quickly as you can," stated a recent letter from the Ocean Protection Council to the Morro Bay City Council and the Cayucos Sanitary District.


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