Morro Bay One Big Step Closer to Clean Water

Officials Launch Effort to Upgrade Sewage Treatment

MORRO BAY (June 18, 2004) - Officials who manage the Morro Bay/Cayucos Wastewater Treatment Plant last night launched efforts to upgrade the antique sewage treatment facility -- one of four on the California coast that still fails to meet basic federal environmental standards.

The four laggard facilities have an exemption under the Clean Water Act that allows them to dump sewage into the ocean after removing the largest solids, but leaving bacteria and other pollutants.

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 as well as native habitat of the threatened California sea otter.

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

"Cleaning up Morro Bay will be good for people, good for otters, and good for the Central Coast economy," said David Beckman, a senior attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), who has been pressing authorities for over a year to meet Clean Water Act standards. "I applaud the Morro Bay/Cayucos Joint Powers Authority for taking a vital first step toward replacing this antiquated facility with modern treatment technology."

Under federal law, both the Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco, and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board in San Luis Obispo, would have to approve the upgrade and set deadlines to achieve it.

"The Authority clearly recognized the need to protect public health and sensitive marine populations," said NRDC staff attorney Anjali Jaiswal. "We look forward to working with them and with water regulators to get this job done promptly and effectively."