Citing Public Health, Officials Reject 15-year Plan to Upgrade Sewage Plant

CAYUCOS, CA (April 7, 2005) -- Officials who manage the Morro Bay/Cayucos Wastewater Treatment Plant last night renewed their commitment to upgrade the antique plant as fast as possible, rejecting a plan proposed by staff that would have taken 15 years. The sewage plant is one of four on the California coast that still fails to meet basic federal environmental standards. They operate under exemptions from the Clean Water Act that allow them to dump sewage into the ocean after removing the largest solids, but leaving bacteria and other pollutants.

After unanimously rejecting the fifteen-year upgrade plan, the panel directed staff to submit a fast-track timeline by May 5, 2005. The next meeting is scheduled for May 19, 2005 at 7:00 p.m. in Morro Bay.

Built in 1954, the Morro Bay/Cayucos plant pumps more than a million gallons of sewage every day into nearby waters regularly plied by commercial and recreational fishing boats. The plant's discharge point is less than one mile offshore, near popular beaches and native habitat of many animals including the threatened California sea otter.

Morro Bay is a hotspot for otter deaths, many of which can be traced to infections from land-based contaminants and pathogens. In 2003, 262 California otters died, leaving a population of only 2,500.

"Cleaning up Morro Bay as fast as possible will be good for people, good for marine life, and good for the Central Coast economy," said Anjali Jaiswal, an attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) which has been pressing authorities for over two years to meet Clean Water Act standards. "I applaud the Morro Bay/Cayucos Board for responding to public demand for a fast-track timeline. It's an investment in the future of the Central Coast."

Under federal law, both the Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board in San Luis Obispo will have to approve the final upgrade plan.