The City of Morro Bay has selected nearby rural Morro Valley as the site of the city’s proposed water reclamation facility.
The site’s proximity to Morro Bay homes and businesses was a key factor in its selection. Located within two miles of city limits off Highway 41, the site is actually four properties that stretch for a total of 663 acres, but less than half of that land is usable for the project because of elevation.
The topography is challenging. Much of the site consists of rolling, sharply sloping hills that rise in elevation from 60 feet by Highway 41, to 250 feet above sea level, which is too steep to cost-effectively pipe sewage up to a facility.
“There are substantial engineering challenges associated with pumping wastewater above elevations of roughly 250 feet above sea level, because multiple lift stations will likely be needed,” according to a city consultant’s 2103 project report.
“All parcels under consideration rise to elevations above 250 feet [up to 750-800 feet], but there is sufficient buildable land below this line to locate a new WRF. … That said, slopes and elevations may present secondary issues related to the cost of pumping, or grading concerns during construction.”
The facility probably will be constructed on relatively level Righetti property adjacent to Highway 41, within 600-1,000 feet of the highway. Avoiding the high elevation will make the facility partially visible to passing motorists on Highway 41.
The sprawling site is loosely shaped like a rectangle with a small notch in the center at the bottom. That “notch” is the 60-plus-unit, tree-cloaked Rancho Colina Mobile Home Park and 40-vehicle RV Park, which is surrounded by land available to the project. Construction activity and the facility itself will probably be visible to some park residents.
Occupying the site now are a few cows, sparse clumps of trees, a couple of aging ranch structures and rusted water tanks. Mostly, the site is open grasslands, non-irrigated grazing range mixed with some prime ag land, much like the rolling Morro Bay prime farmland on the east side of Highway 1.
Close to the eastern boundary of the site are growers Morro Creek Ranch Avocado, considered to be a potential customer for water reuse for irrigation, as well as other irrigated agricultural along Highway 41.
According to last November’s “New Water Reclamation Facility Report” update, authored by John F. Rickenbach Consulting, Morro Valley was a relatively lower cost option compared to other sites. It was also the highest ranked site with the fewest environmental impacts, i.e. avoiding flood zone and ESHA, because its inland location minimizes coastal policy impacts.
The Morro Valley site is comprised of several large “unconstrained” properties, particularly the Rancho Colina and Righetti properties. While that includes sufficient land area lower than the 250 feet above sea level required to build, the four combined parcels that make up the Morro Valley site offer limited plant site locations because of slopes and rising elevations along Highway 41.
The site evaluation was not without its cons. The location comes with the increased costs to extend infrastructure up Highway 41, and, apart from costs, there also will be impacts to prime ag soils on certain parts of some properties.
The plant, which the consultants at this early date roughly estimate will cost from $50 million to $100 million to complete, could begin construction in 2016 and go on line in 2018 or 2019.
So the cows won’t have to move any time soon.