City to Study Water, Sewer Rates

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.

December 4, 2023

The City of Morro Bay is looking for someone to conduct a rate study for its water and sewer systems, and residents can probably expect the costs for both to increase.

In a “request for proposals” notice, the City said, “The objective of the RFP is to receive proposals for a Water and Sewer Rate Fee Study that includes reviewing and updating all fees and charges for services, recommending additional fees, provide a comparison of current water and sewer system costs [operations, capital improvements, bonded debt] against appropriate industry benchmarks.”

The City is wrapping up its massive “Water Reclamation Facility” or WRF Project now, with construction completed and the remaining testing and certifying and review normal with such huge projects underway now before a final determination is made and the contractors paid off.

Though there has been a SNAFU — a problem with unanticipated heavy in-flow into the collection system that showed its ugly face during last winter’s fierce storms.

In-flow into the system from cracks in the collection pipes that lie in the ground surrounded by groundwater, exceeded the disposal system pipe built as part of the WRF. 

It’s a long-time problem the City has had with its aging collection system — wet winters, means high groundwater, which leads to high in-flow into the old sewer pipes resulting in high flow rates to the treatment plant.

A new rate study, if it looks at future maintenance needs and costs, will surely have to consider this expense. There should not, however, be any rate hikes needed to finish the WRF.

There will also be costs the City incurs in the demolition of the old sewer plant on Atascadero Road in the WRF financing. That final bit of business with the Cayucos Sanitary District has been under negotiations and the City Council held a discussion at a recent closed session meeting. The two agencies are co-owners of the Atascadero Road treatment plant property and the undersea discharge pipeline connected now to the City’s new WRF. 

The CSD built its own treatment plant on Toro Creek Road and discharges its unused effluent via an undersea pipeline left over from Chevron’s old Estero Bay Marine (oil) Terminal that ceased operations in 1999.

The City is also in discussions with the Rancho Colina RV/MHP located east of the City Limits on Hwy 41, to potentially have it hook up to the City water and sewer systems.

Also, the water-recycling portion of the WRF Project is just now beginning to be designed and permitted, with the Council recently awarding contract extensions to cover some aspects of that work. 

Construction costs of what amounts to a “purple pipe” recycling system have yet to be determined, but it’s safe to assume it will run several million dollars. Wastewater recycling was a requirement for the low-interest financing the City took out for the WRF Project from both the State and Federal Governments.

Bids on the rate study are due Nov. 30 with a contract slated to be awarded in January. Costs would come out of the water and sewer fund budgets.

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