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U.S. EPA renews Morro Bay wastewater waiver/ Wastewater treatment plant will modernize its sewage treatment -- upgrades underway to put plant on expedited path to recycle wastewater

Release Date: 01/14/2009
Contact Information: Mary Simms, 415-947-4270,

(SAN FRANCISCO -- 1/14/2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted a request for a waiver and approved a modified permit for the Morro Bay/Cayucos wastewater treatment plant in Morro Bay, Calif. The waiver will enable the facility to continue to operate in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act while necessary facility upgrades are completed.

    The plant currently operates under a variance from secondary treatment, on average treating 1 million of 1.2 million gallons of sewage per day with both primary and secondary treatment. All of the wastewater receives primary treatment, and all of the wastewater is disinfected before being discharged. The EPA has decided to continue to grant this variance request because the current discharge meets the federal Clean Water Act variance criteria that protects water quality.

    The coastal facility in San Luis Obispo County is undergoing renovation planning that will modernize its sewage treatment process by March 2014. The plant is making significant progress toward upgrades that will actually exceed the federal standard, by recycling treated wastewater.

    After working with the EPA, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and other state and local authorities, the discharger has decided to go a step beyond what is required and implement tertiary treatment. While the EPA cannot mandate a facility to implement tertiary treatment, the agency encourages water recycling.

    “The Cayucos wastewater treatment facility should be commended for moving full steam ahead towards tertiary treatment,” said Alexis Strauss, water division director in the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “This action will give the facility time to achieve its final goal of recycled wastewater – which in turn will eventually improve the water quality for many central coast communities and ecosystems.”

    An enforceable agreement between the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the discharger provides for escalating monetary penalties of up to $1,000 per day if the treatment facility fails to complete required secondary upgrades by the agreed timetable. The treatment facility must complete upgrades to at least secondary treatment in about five years, no later than March 31, 2014.

    More about sewage treatment

    • The federal Clean Water Act generally requires municipal wastewater treatment plants to use secondary treatment. Amendments to the Act in 1977 allow for variances from secondary treatment for marine discharges, provided the plant meets primary treatment requirements, water quality standards and other specific criteria as part of section 301(h) of the act. These variances are sometimes referred to as 301(h) waivers.
    • When secondary treatment is used, primary-treated wastewater receives additional treatment where a large portion of the organic matter in the wastewater is removed by making use of the bacteria in the sewage. There are a variety of different biological treatment techniques that allow the bacteria to consume most of the waste’s organic matter.

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