By Neil Farrell
The Morro Bay City Council took another big step in its quest to build a new sewer treatment plant, officially opening the project up for bids from three companies that the project team pre-qualified last November.
On Jan. 23, the City Council approved releasing a “Request for Proposals” or RFP, for a so-called “design-build” contract to complete the project, which has its roots in 2001 when the Regional Water Quality Control Board sent the City a letter requesting that the plant be upgraded.
The water board’s request was intended to eliminate a so-called “301(h) waiver,” a legal permit under the Clean Water Act governing the regulation of the plant’s effluent discharges into the ocean. The waiver allows the plant to discharge a blend of primary and secondary treated effluent without penalty.
Under the CWA, all effluent should be treated to full secondary levels before being discharged but exceptions are made in special circumstances. In Morro Bay’s case the City and its partners the Cayucos Sanitary District, have few industrial sewer customers and thus toxic substances, such as heavy metals, are not generally part of the waste stream.
The plant can handle a normal flow but when flows are really high, like busy summer weekends and during wet winters due to infiltration of groundwater, the plant must blend the two levels. All of the effluent is disinfected with chlorine before being discharged and the plant has a good track record with its testing program, invoking the waiver just a handful of times a year.
That permit/waiver has since ended, as the water board’s newest permit for the plant issued late last year and in effect now, is not under the 301(h) section and the plant can now be fined for failing the full secondary standards.
The Morro Bay waiver along with one remaining in effect in San Diego were the only two still in existence in California.
The RFP will go out to three companies, which is down from four companies that responded to the initial “request for qualifications” (RFQ) that the City sent out late last year. They are: AECOM/WM Lyles Co, Joint Venture; Filanc Black & Veatch, Joint Venture; and Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. with Tetra Tech, Inc.
A fourth company, Sundt/Parsons Joint Venture pulled out of the process prior to the Jan. 23 meeting, telling the City it had another job in the works.
Black & Veatch is also the engineering firm the City hired to write a “facilities master plan” for the new plant site for about $800,000.
Water Reclamation Facility Citizen Advisory Committee or WRFCAC members, Paul Donnelly, Valerie Levulett and Steve Shively, along with unnamed City staff members, reportedly reviewed the “statements of qualifications” — the responses to the RFQ — back in early December, recommending the four companies be solicited for bids.
The RFP wording was twice reviewed by WRFCAC, some changes were proposed and incorporated by the staff before presenting the final RFP to the council for approval. The City sent out the final, detailed documents right away, in order to keep the momentum of the project going.
The City’s environmental consultant, ESA, is in the midst of producing an environmental impact report or EIR that is due to be released in March for review and comments, with the Council scheduled to approve the final EIR in June. ESA’s contract was for $346,538.
If that schedule holds, it will allow for an application to be made to the Federal EPA for an $82 million low-interest loan under the “Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act” or WIFIA loan program.
Morro Bay’s project was one of 12 nationwide — four in California — chosen for the $5.1 billion program. The EPA said in a news release, “The City of Morro Bay’s project focuses on water recycling. Through the project, the City will remove and replace its 63-year-old Morro Bay-Cayucos Wastewater Treatment Plant with a new water recycling facility.
“The new facility will recycle all the City’s wastewater using advanced treatment technology to help supplement water supply and reduce reliance on imported water. The project will greatly reduce discharges to the bay, and improve the quality of water used for groundwater recharge.”
The treatment portion of the overall scheme was last estimated at $167 million, which doesn’t include the cost of actually recycling the wastewater. The project as it stands now, would take the City through tertiary treatment of the wastewater, advanced filtering and disinfection — essentially making it “reclamation ready.”
As of now, the idea is to pipe the water back from the plant site at the end of South Bay Boulevard, to somewhere in the Morro Creek Valley (east of Hwy 1), where it would be injected into the ground and then pumped back out again by wells located somewhere on the west side of Hwy 1.
That would allow the earth to do the next step in the cleaning of the water. But that groundwater aquifer is high in nitrates, so the entirety of the City’s reclaimed water will have to be fully treated, presumably through the desalination plant on Atascadero Road.
Back in November, the City hired Water Works Engineers to design the needed facilities — pumps and pipes — to convey the raw sewage from the current plant site on Atascadero Road out to the South Bay Boulevard site roughly 2 miles and a couple of hundred feet in elevation gain. That contract was for $1.34 million.
It’s anticipated that the City will be able to build the necessary giant underground lift station — needed to push the sewage up to the new plant site — at the current plant site on Atascadero Road. That’s where all the City’s gravity-fed collection pipes come together and the logical spot to intercept the flow and reroute it out of town.
That design element could run into trouble at the Coastal Commission, which insisted the new treatment plant be built somewhere east of Hwy 1 to avoid perceived coastal hazards that the Coastal Commission devised to support denial of the City’s previous project in 2013. That project would have built a new plant next door to the existing one and would have cost somewhere around $50 million to $72 million.
Still ahead will be the processing of a permit through the County Planning Department, as the South Bay site is outside the City Limits. The City is expected at some point to apply to annex the property through the Local Agency Formation Commission or LAFCo.