City Seeking Hydrogeologic Firm

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

June 6, 2024

The City of Morro Bay is out now for bids on continuing the push to recycle the town’s treated wastewater, with an eye at supporting a groundwater basin that it uses for drinking water.

A “Request for Proposals” went out May 6 seeking bids, “from qualified hydrogeologic firms, consultants, or individuals for well design and construction support services for recycled water injection and monitoring wells for the Recycled Water Facilities component of the Water Reclamation Facility Program (WRF Program),” a City notice of the RFP reads. “Additionally, the City is requesting proposals for well design and construction support services for a new potable water extraction well.”

As a professional services contract, the City doesn’t have an cost estimate in its notice, which would be part of a construction bid package. 

Instead, the RFP seeks someone to site, design and then oversee the well projects, with costs being negotiated after the contract award.

The City has always planned to recycle the triple-treated and micro-filtered wastewater produced by its new treatment plant, and had originally planned the project claiming it could recycle as much as 800-acre feet a year (AFY) through this injection-extraction process. 

The Morro Creek underground aquifer is where this exchange of water has always been planned to take place, as the City has unlimited water rights because there are no downstream users to share the aquifer with.

But as the project got underway, the plan shifted to using the injected wastewater as a block against potential seawater intrusion caused by the City pumping its wells along the eastern edge of Lila Keiser Park.

Under that scenario, the City would mostly just discharge the wastewater into the ocean, pumping it into the ground only a few days a month to keep up the seawater block; and the City would continue to have state water as its primary source of drinking water. 

That water, which arrives here fully treated and ready to drink,  is blended with Morro Creek well water, which is first filtered at the old desalination plant on Atascadero Road before being piped across town to a tank farm on Kings Street. 

There it is disinfected and blended with the state water before being distributed to customers. These two sources, plus one well out in Chorro Valley, are the only ones available to the City for drinking water. Since its arrival in the mid-1990s, the State Water Project has provided the vast majority of the town’s drinking water.

The injection well location has been somewhat of a moving target with several different locations being looked at over the past several years. 

The City eventually settled on a corner of the power plant property, near the corner of Morro Creek and Hwy 1. Indeed, the City paid property owner Vistra for that easement and another that accommodated a sewer pipe running from the Front Street parking lot on Embarcadero over to Main Street and a new lift station that was constructed next to Lemos Ranch Pet Supply Store.

The City at one point had switched its plans from so-called “indirect potable reuse” to a system of “purple pies” that would carry the wastewater to areas with lots of grass for irrigation.

But a letter from the State Water Quality Control Board’s financing office, which made available some $100 million in low-interest loans for the sewer project, said it would hold the City to the original recycling number of 800 AFY, or it could be made to repay the loans early. This RFP is apparently moving forward with that directive.

Estero Bay News asked Public Works about this RFP but didn’t get a response before deadline. We’ll follow up with that information in a future issue when we get a response, and the City awards its contract.

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