Ocean Outfalls Face Coastal Zone Issues

Wastewater districts considering upgrading or rehabilitating facilities with ocean outfalls need to consider how the California Coastal Commission (CCC) will interpret requirements of the California Coastal Act (Coastal Act) and certified local coastal programs (LCPs) in the review and permitting stages. Stakeholder groups are also paying close attention to ocean outfall issues with an eye toward changing “business as usual” approaches to effluent disposal.

“Securing environmental permits in California’s coastal zone will be rigorous—but not impossible,” says April Winecki, Dudek’s coastal permitting specialist. “It’s rigorous because the wastewater agency will need to deal with the Coastal Act and applicable LCPs.”

The Coastal Act’s Chapter 3 addresses critical coastal resource issues, including public coastline access, coastal and inland recreation, low-cost visitor-serving activities, protection and enhancement of sensitive habitat and species, water quality, and agricultural and visual resources.

Mandates and permit requirements are implemented by the CCC within tidelands and by local governments through the LCPs that were prepared by cities and counties and certified by the CCC. LCPs are intended to plan for a community’s needs while managing development and coastal resource use consistent with Coastal Act policies.

In reviewing permits related to ocean outfall projects, CCC staff has been interested in alternative analysis of beneficial use of discharge for agriculture, industry, and groundwater recharge. Outfall project applications need very comprehensive alternative analysis, including analysis of alternative site locations, treatment options, recycled water use, and disposal options for eliminating ocean outfall entirely.

The CCC’s rationale for considering non-ocean outfall alternatives is largely based upon two aspects of the Coastal Act:

  • To protect water quality and marine resources
  • To give priority to coastal-dependent projects, public access, and recreation on or near the shoreline.

New or reconstructed wastewater facilities near the shoreline must demonstrate that the proposed facilities require an ocean outfall and that a shoreline location is appropriate based on technological and economic factors. Otherwise, the CCC may determine it is not a coastal-dependent use and should be located, or relocated, to an inland site to allow for coastal-priority public access, recreation, or visitor-serving uses in its place.

The CCC recently required the City of Morro Bay to evaluate relocating its existing coastal wastewater facilities when the city applied to construct an upgrade to those facilities at the existing location.

For more information, contact April Winecki at awinecki@dudek.com or 805.963.0651.