By Deb Murphy
The City’s Water and Sewer Commissioners and the Bishop City Council, are looking into ways to reduce nitrates in its waste water to levels anticipated to be less than the current 10 milligrams per liter limit when the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board issues new permits.
Bishop isn’t alone; the Eastern Sierra Community Service District is facing the same issue since waste water from both facilities are co-mingled.
The easy fix is also an expensive fix, a 4.4 to 5.2 million dollar fix, shared by both the City and ESCSD. If the city opts to self-finance treatment facilities recommended by consultant R O Anderson through a bond issue, sewer rates would more than double.
Alternatives presented by Public Works Director Dave Grah at Monday’s City Council meeting also included looking into grant funding while checking out significantly lower-cost alternatives or do nothing and hope Lahontan doesn’t drop the hammer.
According to Grah, Lahontan staff have been helpful and should continue in that vein as long as the City makes progress in lowering nitrates in the groundwater.
Lahontan does take into consideration the cost factor to rate payers, Grah said.
The source of the issue is ammonia from human waste that is converted to nitrate by bacteria in the sewage treatment process. Given time, bacteria would continue to work away on the nitrates, reducing it to harmless oxygen and nitrogen. But, higher than acceptable nitrate levels have shown up in monitoring wells in the area where the reclaimed water is spread.
As both the City and Inyo County realized a few years ago when levels of e-coli in surface water raised red Lahontan flags, the agency holds Eastern Sierra water quality to higher standards than other parts of the state.
While there is a question as to whether groundwater nitrate levels are rising or falling, at issue is the permitting process anticipated for both Bishop and ESCSD in the next year or two. The 10 milligrams per liter ceiling may drop and both waste water treatment facilities have to be prepared for that.
The Water and Sewer Commission had to wrestle with the issue at its May 10 meeting along with a 200-plus page report from R O Anderson.
Both the Commissioners and City Councilmembers reached the same decision—go with Grah’s second alternative: look into grant funding and lower-cost alternatives.
Grah has already contacted the Inyo Mono Integrated Water Management Program for help sourcing grant funds with the possibility of securing a Community Development Block Grant.
One low-cost alternative is extending the area of reclaimed water spread beyond the city’s 40-acres to include an 85-acre Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lease, permitted for that use.
Grah cited a treatment facility in the San Joaquin Valley that turns a profit by irrigating crops with its reclaimed water. While that may not be possible in the Owens Valley, Grah has had discussions with the UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Dustin Blakey on crops and irrigation methods that would work here.
The nitrates are taken up by the plants, Grah told City Council.
City of Bishop press release
The State of California has removed the requirement that City of Bishop water users
reduce water use by 25%. While it removed this primary water conservation
requirement, the state left other requirements in place.
The state had implemented water conservation requirements last year in response to the drought. The state is relaxing some requirements due to more precipitation last winter.
To meet the 25% requirement, Bishop had limited watering to only between 5 pm and 9 am. Since the state has eliminated the 25% requirement and since City of Bishop water sources are relatively unaffected by the drought, City of Bishop water users are free to water at any time during the day. Watering during cooler times would still be suggested because watering during those times is more efficient and probably better for your plants.
The state left the following water conservation requirements in place:
No outdoor irrigation such that water runs off irrigated area
No outdoor irrigation during and within 48 hours after precipitation
No washing vehicles unless hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle
No washing driveways, sidewalks, and parking areas
No decorative water features unless there is recirculation
Landscaping for new homes must follow state requirements
The city has a standing water conservation incentive program available to help its water customers save water. The program provides free hose nozzles, hose timers, and
irrigation system timers and provides rebates for some sprinkler systems and water
The incentives are available only to water customers of the City of Bishop and are limited to one per customer account. Also, quantities of the free items are limited.
Also remember that landscaping needs less water now than in the heat of the summer.
Tailor your watering to the needs of the plants and lawn to avoid overwatering.
Saving water saves money, reduces water rates, protects groundwater, and is the right
thing to do.
Contact the City of Bishop Department of Public Works at 873-8458 for
more information on water conservation and the City’s water system.