State Water Back On In Morro Bay

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 7, 2020

The Annual State Water Project maintenance shutdown has come and gone with little fanfare in the City of Morro Bay but gave the residents a little taste of their recycled water future.

The SWP was shut down from Oct. 29 through Nov. 16 for its annual maintenance work by the Central Coast Water Authority. CCWA operates the Coastal branch pipeline that sends water from the Polonio Pass Water Treatment Plant (off Hwy 41 near Kettlemen City) and sends it all the way to Santa Barbara County.

Morro Bay’s water cuts out at the top of Cuesta Ridge and comes to the City via the Chorro Valley Pipeline, which runs parallel to Hwy 1 and is operated by the County Flood Control District.

The overall SWP is run by the State Department of Water Resources.

During the shutdown Morro Bay residents — some of whom on social media questioned why the water tasted so horrible? — got a taste of the future, as the City turned on its groundwater wells in the Morro Creek basin (at Lila Keiser Park) and filtered that raw water through its desalination plant on Atascadero Road.

Though the de-salter can no longer make drinking water from seawater, after the City abandoned the failed practice earlier this year and dismantled that portion of the plant, it is now solely used to filter the City’s Morro Basin groundwater, removing high nitrates in the feed water, and creating bottled-water-quality H2O for its customers.

When the City Water Reclamation Facility or WRF Project is completed, the City will have the capability of injecting its treated wastewater — over 800 acre feet a year — into the Morro Basin and add to the available groundwater for the City.
The WRF is deigned to be a supplemental water source and a hedge against seawater intrusion. State water will continue as the City’s No.1 water source.

During the shutdown’s 19 days, according to a report in the November City Manager’s Update, “the City treated a total of 17.649 million gallons with a daily average of 0.928 million gallons per day. Utility Division staff performed additional testing and hydrant flushing during this time to ensure the distributed water meets all treatment and drinking water standards.”

It was in the mid-2000s when a City study on the hydrology of Morro Creek and the Morro Valley concluded that the high nitrates found in the Morro Basin groundwater wells was due to over-fertilization by farmers and avocado growers in the valley, which lies east and upstream of the City’s well field.

However, some in the City believe that the nitrates are actually coming from leaky sewer pipes that run down Main Street and out to the treatment plant on Atascadero Road.

In any event, the City added new filter trains to the desalination plant specifically designed to handle fresh water as opposed to seawater, and the desalination plant gained a new purpose and usefulness as an integral part of the current emergency water system and future wastewater-recycling scheme.

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