USDA helps town revitalize economy and restore estuary via $87M wastewater plant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s (USDA) Rural Development program has helped a small California community build a long-needed wastewater treatment system. This will greatly help the ongoing ecological restoration of nearby Morro Bay State and National Estuary. It will also allow the community to add new residents to revitalize their economy.

Down on California’s central coast, the small town of Los Osos has been on a journey. For the past thirty-three years, they’ve been looking for a sustainable solution to a critical problem: How do we protect the environment we live in while growing our community?

Los Osos, a town of about 15,000 people, is nestled next to the pristine wetlands in the Morro Bay State and National Estuary. The prohibitive cost and difficulty of constructing a new wastewater system has meant decades of living under a moratorium on construction—on growth and renewal. Their aging and over-crowded septic systems have been polluting the nearby estuary and contaminating the town’s drinking water with nitrates. And the cost of dealing with those septic tanks has filled this community with controversy.

But on Earth Day, April 22, 2016, we celebrated the turning of a page in history for Los Osos, a page for a greener future. More than cutting the ribbon on the community’s brand new wastewater treatment facility, this Earth Day we celebrated the completion of a model water supply sustainability solution. In addition to constructing 45 miles of new pipelines, twenty-one pump stations, and a water recycling facility to transition the community off septic systems, the project was developed with the entire water cycle in mind. The project funded an aggressive water conservation program to reduce indoor water use by more than twenty-five percent and one hundred percent of the wastewater is recycled and reused in the community, with zero discharge to surface waters.

It was a long road getting here, as any of the locals will tell you. And it wouldn’t have happened without an amazing group of dedicated folks working together. This community made a resolution, San Luis Obispo County stepped in, and Rural Development stepped up. Together, we protected a fragile national estuary that will serve this town and preserve the natural beauty of California for generations. Together, we all made the Los Osos Wastewater Project a reality, working as one community, one state, one nation—one rural America.

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