The Ramona Community Planning Group voted to accept the draft supplemental environmental impact report (EIR) for the Santa Maria Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion at its Jan. 7 meeting.
Tim Stanton, Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD) engineer, gave an overview of the EIR with a PowerPoint presentation and explained the three phases for expansion.
Phase 1, he said, is deferred maintenance in which the capacity will be increased from 1.0 to 1.14 million gallons per day (MGD). Phase 2 will expand the plant to 1.28 MGD for an additional 609 equivalent dwelling units (EDUs), and Phase 3 will expand the plant to 1.47 MGD for another 609 EDUs. The EIR, Stanton said, is for all three phases.
With the plant currently designed for 1.0 MGD, the deferred maintenance for Phase 1, Stanton said, is to meet the 1.14 MGD averages in 2005 and service existing customers.
“We’re already seeing flows that exceed the capacity of the plant,” he said.
The wet weather storage and the spray fields also need to be increased to manage the 2005 flows, he said. Stanton showed photos of the equalization basin, which balances the flows as they come in daily, and the aeration basin, both of which were full in the 2005 photos.
Phases 2 and 3 are planned to be in conformance with the county general plan, said Stanton. The general plan accommodates the infill development of the town center and addresses potential septic system failures in which customers will have to hook up to the sewer system.
The general plan identifies a need of 1.5 MGD for the town center and 2.47 MGD in the active sewer service area, said Stanton. The Santa Maria sewer service area, however, is limited to 1.47 MGD due to land issues, Stanton said.
“Capacity is limited by the availability of land,” he noted.
Stanton explained that the balance of the land around the Santa Maria treatment plant has been taken by the county for open space grasslands.
Addressing the potential impacts of no improvements to the treatment plant, Stanton told the planning group that the Regional Water Quality Control Board could issue a cease and desist order.
“We could have been cited for a spill,” said Stanton, “and a spill can cost you $10,000 a day plus up to $10 a gallon.”
Stanton said the Ramona district didn’t get cited but, with excess volume in 2005 of 4.2 MGD, there was potential for a fine.
Other impacts without the expansion include hauling excess flow at about $60 per 1,000 gallons, no new connections in the town center, and the inability to connect those who have septic systems that fail.
Stanton noted the number of approvals that are needed on the project: the RMWD board of directors, San Diego Air Pollution Control District, Regional Water Quality Control Board, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and California Division of Safety of Dams.
“All those are permits we will have to get once we have our EIR in place,” he said.
According to Stanton, the EIR will be distributed to about 30 different county and state agencies that will have 30 days to respond. The response period will expire around Feb. 4, he said.
With the EIR, he said, the district is mitigating all the impacts that were identified as “below significant,” and most of the mitigation will take place on land the RMWD owns adjacent to the parcel. Financing the project is an issue at this point in time, he added.
Planning group member Matt Deskovick asked why the water district does not have the money for the project, even though customers have paid the rates.
Stanton said the rates that have been paid over the years had no vision for betterment to the plant and, if a need arose for betterment or deferred maintenance, the district had not budgeted for that.
Most districts, he explained, have a budget in which they set aside money each year to accumulate in case something breaks or needs to be replaced.
“We have not done that,” Stanton said, adding that last year the board approved a rate increase to help cover the deferred maintenance.
Some connection fees will also go toward the cost of Phase 1, he said.
The initial phase is estimated to cost $13 million. Stanton said during the budgeting process this year, ideas will be presented to the water district board on how to pay for the project. One component may be increased rates for Santa Maria service area customers.
Planning group member Jim Piva said that, during the group’s Jan. 5 Trails and Transportation Subcommittee meeting that he chairs, water district director George Boggs spoke about the necessary sewer improvements, and one person asked that a non-motorized trail be provided to allow connectivity from Ramona Acres to the Ramona Grasslands Open Space Preserve.
The group voted 12-1 to accept the EIR, with member Richard Tomlinson casting the only dissenting vote.
Deskovick also made a motion to request the county allow the water district the ability to purchase open space land for spray fields. That motion passed 11-2 with Tomlinson and Katherine L. Finley opposed.
Ralph McIntosh, general manager of the water district, said the board sent a letter with a similar request to the county about three months ago but never received a response.