It’s been a decade since Half Moon Bay voters overwhelmingly approved a measure supporting recycled water and now the state is locked in record-breaking drought. Yet Coastside agencies responsible for bringing recycled water to the area remain in the early planning stages.
In 2005, a city ballot measure recorded the local electorate’s 84 percent approval rating for a cooperative local approach to recycling water. But water managers and directors of wastewater treatment provider Sewer Authority Mid-coastside have only recently committed to work together.
Last October, officials with SAM and the Coastside County Water District sounded as though they had worked out their jurisdictional issues in regard to production and distribution of recycled water. They signed a letter of intent and guiding principles in January.
“This is clearly a doable thing,” said Allan Alifano, the former Half Moon Bay City Councilman and former vice chair of the SAM board of directors.
“This is not new. It’s not rocket science. If we’re truly committed, we can make it happen,” he said last year near the end of his term.
The city studied recycled water in 2005, when SAM hired Carollo Engineers to report on its feasibility and safety. The study found that recycled water could potentially cost $200 to $350 per acre-foot per year — a substantial decrease from the $1,500 per acre-foot per year found in a 2002 estimate. It also looked into prospective customers and the costs for building a tertiary treatment facility that would reuse wastewater.
But recycled water talks broke down at a 2010 meeting, when the two agencies couldn’t agree on partnership principles. In May 2013, a San Mateo County grand jury report urged counties to implement recycled water programs. Although the city’s response at the time only promised to engage in dialogue with the two water agencies, new momentum surfaced last October when an agreement of terms appeared to be within reach.
In January, CCWD approved and signed the guiding principles set forth by SAM, according to CCWD’s Assistant General Manager Mary Rogren.
“We’re supportive of a recycled water project,” Rogren said. “We’re moving forward with the first phase of the project.”
Chris Mickelsen, president of CCWD’s board of directors, sounds less convinced that the recycled water project will move forward beyond talks and studies.
“Recycled water may sound politically popular right now, but SAM has no intention of producing a drop of it,” Mickelsen said. “It’s all a show for the public.”
Mickelsen also has doubts that an initial customer for the project exists. At one point, the Half Moon Bay Golf Links expressed interest in the water, but after a 2009 pilot application to the course burned the grass and the 2010 breakdown resulted in lost time and resources, Ocean Colony Partners, the golf course’s owner, may not want to continue participating in the project, according to Mickelsen.
“The golf course got so burned from the last go-around that I think it’s gun shy from coming back with us,” he said.
Officials with Ocean Colony Partners could not be reached for comment.
SAM Board President Ric Lohman has expressed a completely different viewpoint, and he remains enthusiastic about the building momentum for bringing recycled water to the Coastside.
“What we’ve done now is contract out with the group who wrote all the reports last time to basically update everything, bring everything — costs, opportunities — to current date,” Lohman said. “It’s a multi-stage process.”
Before SAM can move forward with CCWD it will need to know more about actual costs, according to Lohman.
“Once we get the data, we will set up meetings with CCWD and apply for all the funding,” he said.
Unlike Mickelsen, he believes that the golf course will still participate as a customer. Once SAM knows the costs involved when the data reports are released in a couple weeks, official contracts will then have to be signed between CCWD, SAM and the golf course.
As much as Mickelsen has expressed distrust of the process, he does envision an ideal situation in which SAM and CCWD can find a year-round customer for the water in addition to providing public access to the water for landscaping irrigation.
But before locals get excited about limitless water for their lawns anytime soon, it’s wise to remember that contract talks have yet to officially begin and the construction of a recycled water facility would take 18 to 24 months, according to former SAM General Manager Rob Hopkins.