Thursday, March 15, 2012
Your household wastewater is more valuable than you may realize, especially in a region facing crunch time in its water-supply crisis.
Monterey Peninsula Water Management District has drafted a memorandum of understanding to partner with Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency and California American Water Co. on a wastewater recycling project, also known as groundwater replenishment.
“It’s new to the area, but it’s more cost-effective than desal,” MPWMD General Manager David Stoldt says. “It’s environmentally benign. It should have a whole host of supporters.”
The project’s fundamentals: MRWPCA would own and operate the wastewater recycling plant, which would be built on the agency’s property next to the landfill in Marina. The region’s sewage would be microfiltered, treated by reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light, injected into the Seaside Basin to mix with other groundwater, then pumped back out. MPWMD would buy the product water and sell it to Cal Am, which would deliver it to ratepayers.
“Eventually it becomes a part of the water supply,” MRWPCA General Manager Keith Israel says.
The project would only happen in the winter, Israel adds, because the agency’s summertime flow is already fully committed to irrigation.
The agency’s board recently adopted a zero-discharge goal. That means finding uses for about 7,000 acre-feet of winter wastewater, which is currently treated and discharged into Monterey Bay.
“Ultimately we’d like to find a way to use all of that water,” Israel says. “Otherwise it’s just a waste of a good resource.”
The groundwater replenishment process, which uses about half the energy of desal, would be modeled after a similar plant in Orange County and produce anywhere between 2,700 and 3,500 acre-feet per year. Israel estimates the project’s price tag at up to $70 million, or $3,000 per acre-foot.
“Assuming we can come up with the planning dollars to keep it going, it could be online as early as late 2016,” he says. “How it fits in [with other water-supply projects] we don’t know. Others are making those decisions.”
Cal Am still hasn’t formalized its plan, due to the state by April 23, to come up with roughly 10,500 acre-feet of new drinking water in less than five years. A March 14 public forum, past the Weekly’s deadline, looked at the top contenders for that new supply, including groundwater replenishment.
Other likely pieces of the water-supply puzzle: aquifer storage and recovery, which involves pumping excess winter flows from the Carmel River into the Seaside Basin and storing it for the dry summer months; and a desalination plant.
“If [the groundwater replenishment project] is ready in time, it could take the desal from a 9,000 acre-foot plant to a 6,000 acre-foot plant,” Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie says. “That would hopefully save costs. It’s definitely a strong contender.”
Cal Am is under a state cease-and-desist order to stop over-pumping the Carmel River. The Monterey Peninsula faces a 70 percent water cutback unless an alternative supply is in place by December 2016.
MPWMD is also looking for a new way to collect an 8.3 percent user fee from water users in the district. Last May, a judge ruled it illegal for Cal Am to collect that fee as a line item on its water bills, so MPWMD hasn’t received the revenue for the past 10 months. As a result, it’s had to pull almost $4 million from its reserves.
But the judge didn’t invalidate the fee itself, and the district is ready to start collecting it again. Stoldt says the wastewater recycling agreement is contingent on a new billing mechanism.
“We need that user fee to do the groundwater replenishment,” he says.