Half Moon Bay working toward water recycling

Wastewater at the Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside currently gets treated and piped into the Pacific. A new facility would treat this water to a higher level for recycling.

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With recycled water a long-debated but unachieved goal for Half Moon Bay and surrounding coastal communities, the Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside has hired a new general manager it hopes can advance the multimillion-dollar initiative.

The authority hired Steve Leonard in part because he has more than 30 years of experience managing complex and controversial projects for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, as well as for a water and wastewater utility company in Monterey. His work “in the trenches” should prove valuable as the authority wrestles with how to build consensus around a recycled water project, says its board chairwoman, Marina Fraser.

Leonard has been in his new job since August.

In a region hit hard by drought in recent years, many have advocated treating and re-using water as a way to shore up resources for future shortages. Cities such as Redwood City and Santa Clara have recently adopted measures to recycle wastewater for irrigation.

But decade-old efforts in the Half Moon Bay area appear to be stalled over concerns about funding, tensions between the agencies involved and community qualms that a new water source could encourage unwanted growth.

“The board has differing opinions on how recycled water would work, and it’s my job to find a common grail for us to follow,” Leonard said in an interview last week.

After the authority’s Sept. 27 board meeting, Fraser, who is also Half Moon Bay’s mayor, indicated that the authority is focused more on running normal operations on a tight budget than on pushing ahead with expensive projects.

“What we’re focusing on right now is the business of the sanitary district,” she said.

Seemingly in answer to that concern, the Coastside County Water District has said it would fund the project.  As the area’s water supplier, it would distribute whatever the authority recycles. But Water District General Manager Dave Dickson says he has not received a clear response on that offer from the authority.

“From my perspective, we haven’t been able to achieve cooperation between the water district and the sewer authority,” he said in an interview last week.

That’s partially because the authority represents three groups — Half Moon Bay, the Montara Water and Sanitary District and the Granada Sanitary District — each with differing interests in recycled water.

“If the CCWD is really ready to fund this, the next step would be to have all agencies … say, lets make this happen,” Fraser said.

Leonard said he believes his background working on the distribution side of the business will help him understand the water district’s viewpoint as he works with Dickson to move ahead.

Another obstacle,  Leonard said, will be gaining wider public support for the project. Many residents have expressed concern that adding water to the regional supply could encourage growth. Currently, the area’s limited water has held back development – and in this scenic coastal community, many would like to keep it that way.

The authority’s wastewater, once treated, currently flows away from the community and into the ocean, according to water engineer Tanya Yurovsky, a consultant for the authority. She said the water could be better used, once cleaned, to help meet the area’s large demand for irrigation.

Officials with Half Moon Bay’s golf course — an economic staple for the city – have estimated they would purchase upwards of 100 million gallons of recycled water a year.  By replacing fresh water with recycled, the golf course could minimize its impact on local water supplies in addition to securing its ability to irrigate in drought years.

“We’re all in this water system together,” Leonard said. “There are benefits we haven’t yet made clear about developing this sustainable water supply for this piece of heaven we all live in.”

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