MWSD residents invited to 50th anniversary celebration, Sunday

Press release

By on Tue, August 19, 2008

The Montara Water and Sanitary District invites residents of Montara and Moss Beach to celebrate fifty years of success overcoming environmental challenges, together with five years of progress meeting local water needs, at a community party on Sunday, August 24, 2008 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel.

"The Montara / Moss Beach community has repeatedly demonstrated its determination to meet local needs through effective local government. This community party lets us thank the residents who are responsible for the continued success of our District," according to Paul Perkovic, president of the MWSD board of directors.

A barbeque lunch featuring food and beverages donated by local businesses begins at 1 p.m., followed by an opportunity to tour District facilities and read about the history of the Montara Water and Sanitary District, the Point Montara Naval Anti-Aircraft Training Center (which formerly occupied the MWSD site), and the Point Montara Lighthouse and Hostel (most recently featured in news stories across the country for its traveling lighthouse).

Former State Senator Quentin Kopp will briefly address the community about 2:30 p.m., followed by presentation of proclamations honoring the Montara / Moss Beach community and MWSD for their accomplishments over the past 50 years, cleaning and disposing of wastewater and solid waste for the community, and over the past 5 years operating and improving the local water system while keeping water rates as low as possible.

Shortly after it was formed, the District constructed the most advanced wastewater treatment facility on the Midcoast to eliminate polluting the Pacific Ocean with the community’s untreated sewage. Five years ago, the District acquired the local water system, which had been neglected during decades of private ownership. More recently, MWSD installed the first solar power system to serve a Midcoast agency.

Please RSVP using the link on the MWSD web site, to assist in planning adequate food and beverages. All community members are welcome to attend, whether or not you RSVP.

Click for background on the district’s history and anniversary.

Background on Montara Water and Sanitary District for 50th and 5th Anniversary story

Formed in 1958 as the Montara Sanitary District of San Mateo County, this locally

elected special district allowed the small Montara / Moss Beach coastal community of barely 275 homes and a small number of businesses to design, finance, and construct a sewer system and treatment plant to eliminate polluting the Pacific Ocean with the community’s untreated sewage. The Montara treatment facility was the most advanced on the Midcoast when it was built, able to treat 500,000 gallons per day to secondary standards. Availability of modern sewage capacity led to the rapid growth of the Montara / Moss Beach community, with more than 1,000 homes constructed in the 25 years after the District was formed.

The District joined with Granada Sanitary District and the City of Half Moon Bay in 1976 to create the Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside, a joint powers agency. SAM began planning for a regional water treatment plant. This regional solution resulted in a loss of treatment capacity for the Montara / Moss Beach community, because the San Mateo County Local Coastal Program certified in 1980 allocated only 400,000 gallons per day to the Montara / Moss Beach community. The SAM plant was expanded in 1999 to provide capacity sufficient to serve the population allowed at buildout of the local coastal programs. "We’ve provided sanitary sewer service almost 20 years longer than SAM existed. We’ve done a good job with limited resources," according to Bob Ptacek, an MWSD director.

Meanwhile, the local private water system operated by Citizens Utilities Company of California was unable to keep pace with the influx of new residents. By 1976, water outages and water supply problems were so bad that the California Public Utilities Commission ordered an investigation. Citizens Utilities made minimal attempts to find new sources of water and poorly maintained the system’s infrastructure. Citizens Utilities repeatedly requested water rate increases from the PUC with the promise to improve the system, but would never follow through after receiving the rate increase. Citizens Utilities finally added enough storage to barely meet the fire district’s requirements.

Water problems plagued the community for the next two decades, resulting in frequent water shortages and finally an imposed moratorium on all new water connections. Community members reacted to the continuing failure of the private water utility to meet community needs by working for public ownership. A group of local citizens formed the Montara-Moss Beach Water Improvement Association (MMBWIA) and requested the District’s cooperation. As Jim Harvey, a founding member of MMBWIA who was active in obtaining water powers for the District, recalled, "There was overwhelming interest in the community to become an independent water district with local control and ownership." With the invaluable assistance of State Senator Quentin Kopp, the MMBWIA and community at large succeeded in obtaining authority to operate the water system.

Community support for this effort was overwhelming. More than 80% of voters supported the District proceeding to implement its recently granted water powers. Over 80% of voters in a second election agreed to finance the acquisition and improvement of the water system. The community finally was able to take control of its own destiny when the Montara Water and Sanitary District purchased the privately owned water system in August 2003 and took over operations. This hard-fought accomplishment allowed the community to move forward on solving the long-standing water system problems.

In the five years of public ownership, the District developed a major new water source with the new Alta Vista Well, rehabilitated the Wagner Well, Airport Well #3, and South Airport Well, and restored the Portola 3 Well. These projects increased the water supply available to serve existing customers, allowing MWSD to operate during the current drought period with no water use restrictions.

The District also replaced the disintegrating Montara Creek supply pipeline, rehabilitated the antiquated Alta Vista Water Treatment Plant, added an ion-exchange treatment facility for the Airport Wells, and reduced operating costs by improving the energy efficiency of the District’s wells. Pipeline replacement projects eliminated many of the problems with water leaks in the District and improved fire flow capacity for better community fire protection. The District replaced all obsolete fire hydrants in the District with modern hydrants. The final projects to complete the voter mandate from 2001 are awaiting approval by the California Coastal Commission, which is expected later this year (unless state budget cuts eliminating critical Coastal Commission staff positions cause further delays).

According to MWSD General Manager Clemens Heldmaier, "All these improvements have made the water operations comparably easy. Before, Citizens Utilities was in a constant state of crisis. Now we can sleep at night." One of the most significant operational improvements for the District was installation of remote-read water meters, which cut the staff time required every month for water billing by approximately 95%. Water system operators can now devote more of their time to preventive maintenance and upgrades to the water system.

MWSD installed solar panels on the roof of the Alta Vista Reservoir earlier this year, becoming the first Midcoast public agency to use renewable energy. The District also studied the potential for using desalination as a long-term reliable water source to meet future growth needs in the community, and is currently working with neighboring agencies towards a recycled water project.

In 2000, Citizens Utilities had applied for water rate increases that would have resulted in rates rising more than 108% by 2008. Instead, under MWSD ownership and control, base tier residential rates are up only 14% over this time period. This compares favorably with neighboring water districts that depend San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy system, who are facing dramatic cost increases to pay for the multi-billion dollar seismic retrofit program.

"Other communities around the country have drawn inspiration from what our community achieved in the fight against skyrocketing water rates, including Felton, which celebrated their own Water Independence Day just last month," noted Scott Boyd, an MWSD director. "Five years on, it’s a great time to remember and celebrate independence right here at home."