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Morgan Hill
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September 23, 2021

Treated wastwater can go into river

A six-year legal battle to determine whether Morgan Hill and
Gilroy can pipe their highly treated wastewater into the Pajaro
River during the wet season ended Friday, with the cities coming
out on top.
A six-year legal battle to determine whether Morgan Hill and Gilroy can pipe their highly treated wastewater into the Pajaro River during the wet season ended Friday, with the cities coming out on top.

The South County Regional Wastewater Authority – which handles the disposal of wastewater from Morgan Hill and Gilroy – received unanimous approval from the state’s Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board for a five-year seasonal water discharge permit.

Jay Baksa, Gilroy city administrator and executive officer of SCRWA, confronted the regional water board at the meeting in San Luis Obispo, which lasted roughly three hours and also dealt extensively with land-disposal requirements. Baksa called the agreement a landmark victory.

The permit specifies that wastewater can only be discharged to the river November through April, California’s wet season. It must be treated by a tertiary treatment process, a high level of treatment that releases wastewater into the river at a much higher quality than the river water itself, Baksa said.Also, the river must have a minimum flow rate before wastewater can be discharged. In dry years, when the flow rate is below the minimum standard, wastewater will be directed to reclamation and land disposal. The new permit also sets concentration limits for acceptable amounts of salts in wastewater.

The permit will eventually expand the current practice of distributing the cities’ treated wastewater into the ground or using it to irrigate some parks, golf courses and farms, Baksa said. Until now, the wastewater management plan, created in 1984, covered only reclamation and land disposal. Seasonal discharging is the third leg of that plan.

Charles Morales, Gilroy city councilman and member of the authority since 1992, said the board’s approval is a major victory both for the authority and residents of Gilroy and Morgan Hill.

Those cities are close to reaching capacity at the sewer plant, said SCRWA board chairwoman and Morgan Hill Councilwoman Hedy Chang. The new permit ensures that additional sewage treatment measures will be able to accommodate future growth.

The quest to secure the permit dates back to 1984 when the authority created its general plan, and litigation was pursued in 1998. A May 2003 Santa Clara County Superior Court decision granted the authority the right to the permit, but the ruling did not set any specific terms and regulations. The Santa Clara Valley Water District supported SCRWA through the litigation.

The Pajaro River flows into Monterey Bay.

Katie Niekerk covers City Hall for The Dispatch. She can be reached at 847-7097 or [email protected]

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