County to Monitor Recycled Water Flow

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.

April 7, 2023

Los Osos’ community sewer project went online in 2016 but all aspects of the complex project haven’t been completed yet.

County Supervisors recently approved going out for bids to install a flow meter on the recycled water line that empties the treated effluent into a giant leach field above Broderson Avenue and finish up one of the project’s numerous conditions of approval.

The so-called “Los Osos Water Recycling Facility” was required to recycle the treated waste water and sought to do so through various methods — agriculture irrigation use, for urban uses (watering park landscapes), and into the Broderson leach field, which was designed to get the water down into the aquifer and help combat over drafting of the groundwater basin.

It’s that over-drafting of the town’s only drinking water supply that has put a cork in the community’s attempts to get out from under building moratoriums based on limited resources.

Those moratoriums — both officially declared as with the septic tanks prohibitions and the de facto moratorium based on the water supplies — continue to deny people’s abilities to build on vacant lots. 

The town remains under Level 3 severity restrictions due to the water supply being threatened by seawater intrusion caused by over-pumping. 

The County has been told by the Coastal Commission not to even accept any permit applications that would increase demand on the water supply and the County has thus far resisted doing that, though all recent Coastal Development Permits issued by the County have been appealed to the Commission and ultimately denied if deemed to increase water demand.

It’s an unprecedented move that saw the Coastal Commission tell the County that it does not consider “will serve” letters issued by water purveyors to be enough proof that there is sufficient water supplies. 

With the community sewer system that was completed in Spring 2016, the Broderson leach field was intended to return wastewater to the underground aquifer. And the County was required to track the amount of water being recycled under conditions put in by the Regional Water Quality Control Board with its National Pollution Discharge Elimination Permit (NPDES). 

“The existing method for reporting the volume of water disposed at the Broderson Leach Field is to subtract each of the other recycled water users from the total effluent flow. The remainder is estimated to be what is disposed at Broderson. This method results in flow inaccuracies at Broderson.”

In 2021, the County received grant monies through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), money that was allocated during the coronavirus pandemic response, and rerouted some of those millions into a project called “Los Osos Effluent Pump Station Project” that now has some $600,000 available. The new flow meter was added to this pump station project.

“The Project includes installing isolation gate valves for operational flexibility and a flow meter within a vault, which will be connected to SCADA for remote monitoring,” according to a report from County Utilities Manager, Nola Engelskirger. “Approval of this project will improve the accuracy and reporting for the volume of water discharged at Broderson. The project helps address the Los Osos Basin Plan goal of the Water Reinvestment Program by improving the operational control and measurement of water delivered to Broderson Leach Field.” 

SCADA stands for “Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition,” and is a computer-based system for gathering and analyzing real-time data to monitor and control equipment that deals with critical and time-sensitive materials or events.

The SCADA system will allow the flow numbers to be reported automatically to the regional water board.

The flow meter portion isn’t a very big job. “The scope of work for this project,” Engelskirger said, “includes installing a flow meter within a vault, installing two isolation gate valves, and relocating the fiber optic cable around the vault. The engineer’s estimate for the construction is $169,000 and the total project cost is $196,900.”

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