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Planning Committee wants to continue water reclamation study

By Sam Richards

Staff writer


(Thursday, July 14) Saying more information is needed before a meaningful decision can be made, and despite a forecast of mounting costs, the GRF Planning Committee on Thursday voted to recommend to the full GRF Board to keep moving ahead with an ongoing study of building a wastewater reclamation facility to keep Rossmoor’s golf courses green.

The vote to continue with funding the study was 3-1, with Dwight Walker dissenting. Walker had proposed a motion to pause the study, now into its fifth year, of whether building and operating a water reclamation plant is ultimately a cost benefit. That question had gained traction as projected construction and technology costs have increased, especially in light of current inflation rates.

The full GRF Board is expected to take up this recommendation at its July 28 meeting.

A GRF staff report says the original cost estimate for a 250,000-gallon-a-day-size “satellite water recycling facility” was around $11 million; building a facility capable of processing 360,000 gallons a day, combined with construction costs that have accelerated with the pandemic, is now estimated at about $19 million.

It is estimated the water reclamation plant would cost between $350,000 and $511,000 a year to operate. The facility could be owned and operated by GRF, or it could be owned and operated by a third party.

Also not settled is where the reclamation plant would be built. There are still two potential sites being considered – just outside the Rossmoor gate near St. Anne’s Church and adjacent to the golf maintenance yard at Creekside.

Finding a new source of water to maintain Rossmoor’s golf courses is recommended because the future of GRF’s riparian rights to use water from Tice Creek could go away if the drought persists. And GRF expects to lose about 14% of its creek water when air conditioners in Second Mutual manors are replaced in the next 5 to 10 years. Condensate from those air conditioners, yielding a substantial amount of water, flows back into Tice Creek.

GRF staff has been talking with EBMUD and with the Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (Central San) about possible alternative sources of recycled water.  But both agencies have said providing such water to Rossmoor would be cost-prohibitive.

Walker told the committee on Thursday that most Rossmoor residents don’t want to see a significant increase in their coupon to help pay for it. His proposed pause of the project, he said, was motivated by finances.

“Our pot of money is very limited,” he said. There also has been some resident pushback over prospective odors from such a plant, though GRF officials say that shouldn’t be a significant problem.

The draft Facilities Master Plan, which could be approved by the GRF Board on July 28, calls for spending $232,000 this calendar year to study a water reclamation plant.

While other committee members acknowledged the financial challenges, they also said the drought only figures to get worse, which will accelerate price hikes for East Bay Municipal Utility District water that Rossmoor buys to augment its Tice Creek water. Base prices for that EBMUD water have gone up an average of 7% a year over the past several years, and drought surcharges – like the 8% one that took effect July 1 – come on top of the base increases.

“It seems to me like we really need to go full-bore” in developing alternatives to EBMUD water, said committee member Carol Meehan. Likewise, fellow committee member Ted Bentley said he believes water reclamation is too important to put on pause at this stage, and that officials are still awaiting key information that could inform how, or if, it moves ahead. Governmental grants to help pay for it, some committee members said, should be pursued.

CEO Tim O’Keefe said keeping the golf courses green is more than simply an amenity for resident golfers – that greenbelt is also valued as keeping a relatively fire-resistant evacuation zone should Rossmoor experience a “cataclysmic event” like a wildfire.

O’Keefe also said that a Central San official told him earlier in the week that building a facility like this is Rossmoor’s greatest opportunity for water conservation. But neither Central San nor the city of Walnut Creek want to be partners in the Rossmoor reclamation facility, O’Keefe said.

“But if you want to do recycled water,” O’Keefe said he was told, “you’re on your own.”