To the Editor: Questions wastewater site

At the Sept. 26 meeting of the City of Ridgecrest Infrastructure Committee, staff stated the existing base site is the best place for the new wastewater treatment plant due to the gravity feed and economy of scale. That statement is premature. The selection should be based on evaluating well-defined measurable selection criteria. We need a real decision strategy. Also, economy of scale is a joint use factor, not a base site factor.

The city has three options for a new WWTP: 1) a joint use facility on Navy/BLM property, 2) a joint use facility on city property, or 3) a city only use facility on city property. We need to understand the long-term costs and revenues of all three options. Our leverage in negotiating with the Navy comes from quantitatively understanding our options.

The staff continues to work with WWTP study data that was gathered five to ten years ago. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act changed the way we need to look at wastewater and its synergism with ground water supply. The recycled water from our new WWTP may be the only new source of water our valley has in the foreseeable future. Our WWTP objectives need to be compatible with SGMA. We are part of a team. New objectives will not be achieved using old perceptions. The old baseline designs did not include tertiary treatment or advanced treatment. We have a new reality – like it or not.

The city has contracted for many WWTP studies. A study written in 2011 by Provost and Pritchard shows the capital and operating costs of the city site essentially the same as the costs at the Navy site. A study written in 2015, also written by Provost and Pritchard, shows a substantial capital cost advantage ($5M) for the base site and a minor operating advantage to city site. The increase in capital cost for the city site was not explained. No rationale was given for using the existing 20-inch force main for recycled water rather than sewage transfer between the Navy site and the city site. Who made that decision?

The assumed cost penalty in the studies for using the Navy site is only 5 percent. The impact of Navy security on the cost needs to be thoroughly understood. This issue could potentially be mitigated if the Navy accepted the liability for Navy caused expense over the budgeted 5 percent. This single cost factor could negate any perceived advantage of the Navy WWTP site.

Adding tertiary treatment to the design will have a major impact on the WWTP design. The preliminary designs are based upon heavy use of evaporation and percolation ponds. The footprint of the WWTP should be reduced dramatically. This opens our options.

It is important to understand that none of our cost data includes the city paying the Navy rent. This cost could outweigh any other operating cost. Payment of rent using recycled water is problematic. Water in the future could be worth its weight in gold. Is paying the Navy rent in the best long-term financial interest of the public considering we have land we already own? The tertiary water could be sold at market value rather than given to the Navy. SGMA will ensure a market for recycled water. The cost of water is going up. Paying the Navy rent could negate any perceived advantage of the Navy WWTP site.

The staff’s preoccupation with one WWTP option at the exclusion of other more sustainable options is not in the public’s best interest. I request the council direct the staff to refocus on all viable options. The city’s practice of subsidizing Navy wastewater costs needs to stop.

Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2019-10-11