With future growth potentially affecting the Santa Maria Sewer Service Area (SMSSA), members of the Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) listened to a March 10 presentation on possible improvements to the sewer plant.
“In 2005, there were roughly 4,087 equipment dwelling units (EDUs) using the system,” said District Engineer Tim Stanton. “With possible new areas being established, specific plans must be made in terms of expanding the plant to provide for additional needs.”
Stanton was joined by David Barnum, chief financial officer for RMWD during the presentation, which was designed to prepare the board for upcoming decisions regarding improvements to the plant.
The Santa Maria Sewer District was formed by the county in 1946 with a limit established on how many total dissolved solids (TDS), sulfate and chlorine disinfection it could handle in terms of the size of the area.
These limits have consistently increased over the years. Activities associated with the plant, in addition to a continued increase in monthly average effluent, have led to the need to expand the plant.
“There are quite a few decisions that need to be made relative to the project,” said Stanton.
Included in these are a design for the plant, certification, construction and financing options. Of these four items, the design dictates the construction and financing.
“The design moves you forward with the project,” Stanton said. “You cannot go any further without a design.”
A limiting factor in the design for potential improvements is the existing sprayfields in the area.
“In terms of wet weather storage after 2005, we had 262 acre-feet (AF) of storage available,” Stanton told the board. “Based upon the amount of flow, we determined a need for 433 AF.”
The district anticipated needing more land for sprayfields. As a result, an additional 285 acres were purchased last year. To increase the plant, the sprayfields will determine the size and design.
Stanton and staff worked up projected EDUs for the area.
“We calculate assumptions,” said Stanton.
The first assumption is that no one who is currently on septic within the sewer district will go on the sewer in the future. A second assumption is anyone who is on 2 acres or more, outside the sewer district, will also be on septic. These assumptions could help reduce the number of EDUs, versus what the county’s projections indicate.
According to the county’s 2020 Plan, a projected increase of 7,941 additional EDUs will eventually be located in the area, according to district staff.
“Based on our calculations and modifications, we have projected a 3,031 EDU increase,” Stanton said. “A typical projected 30-day demand on the plant will equal 1.84 million gallons per day (MGD).”
With this figure in mind, it became clear that the district needed to move forward with some form of management of effluent and in-flow at the facility, he said.
Since 2006, a total of $2,567,000 has been committed on the project. Stanton explained to the Board that the goal is to establish a plant based on the capability of producing 1.5 MGD, designed and built with the least cost alternative, and utilizing a three-phase development strategy.
Phase 1 involves replacement/betterment. The cost for this phase would be through district financing.
Phase 2 and Phase 3 are expansion of the plant. There is a price tag on each of the phases, with a total estimate of completion to be just over $30 million.
There is no guarantee that financing for the project will be successful.
“The financing climate is currently real bad,” said David Barnum. “The funds are actually loans and must be repaid. If the board decides to go forward, we will need to borrow money.”
It was suggested that money could be generated by a public bond, or borrowing $11 million to be paid off over 20 years.
“This may impact the current debt covenants that the district is responsible for,” said Barnum. “It may also require that RMWD commits to proceed on to Phase 2. This most likely will require a pledge of property tax revenues, and an increase in Santa Maria rates.”
Some budget appropriations could include taking funds from the Capital Improvements Projects (CIP), as well as funds from the Capital Replacement Project (CRP).
Stanton and district staff have developed alternatives to SMSSA improvements. Some of the suggestions were connection to the City of San Diego at a possible cost of $50 million, converting Highland Valley to recycle, and designing injection wells and evaporation canyons.
“We are talking about how we are to deal with the effluent and spray and not about expanding the plant,” Stanton said.
No matter what decision is made by RMWD, the first consideration is to come up with a design for the project.
“Until you come up with a hardcore design, you do not have correct or accurate numbers for financing,” Stanton said. “I don’t believe you can continue to be in excess of capacity, and not do something.”
According to Stanton, a typical design could take 6 to 9 months and cost $40,000.
Stanton posed a question to the Board: “Is the board going to allow an additional 136 EDUs to be connected to a system that has 149 EDUs above the current capacity?”
“Where are we in having to make a decision regarding this upgrade?” asked Director Darrell Beck. “Is this something that needs to be done immediately?”
“The situation is we have an agreement for the land,” answered Stanton. “There is a three-year window in which we can get our permit. At this point, we are one year into that process.”
Several firms have submitted proposals to RMWD for a design services contract for the SMSSA improvements. On Dec. 27, 2006, the Board approved contracting with RBF Consulting for a pre-design report to be completed by April 19, 2007. This report underwent numerous revisions to the satisfaction of the RMWD Board Ad Hoc committee. Staff has recommended that the board award a design services contract to RBF for the plant improvements.
Representatives of local growers addressed the board with potential alternatives to financing, as well as the use of recycled water for agriculture. The board was told that there is a grant program available for conservation measures. This grant could award up to $300,000 per grower who agrees to use alternative systems designed to recycle water.
Pure-Tech in Escondido has developed a system that treats recycled water for agricultural irrigation use.
Similar systems have been used in Ventura County with success. Growers have suggested that the district has 750 acre-feet of water that could be treated and used for agriculture.
By using this water, with a proven recycling system, the district could potentially avoid building holding ponds in the Santa Maria area. This could substantially lower the total cost of the proposed improvements.
The growers requested the board postpone a decision for 30 days to allow grower consultants time to gather information regarding recycling systems.
Stanton said a 30-day delay would not affect moving the project forward.
“Right now there is water and storage out there,” said Stanton. “Right now, the growers could implement what they propose. The sooner it is implemented, the quicker it could be incorporated into the design process.”
RMWD directors Jim Robinson, Darrell Beck and George Boggs were in favor of the proposed delay.
“I want us to have a better understanding of what we are talking about here,” said Robinson.
Boggs suggested extending the decision 45 days to allow the growers even more time to compile information to present to the board. This motion was unanimously approved.