Hi-Desert Medical Center Leads Morongo Valley In H2O Treatment Standards

(October 10) JOSHUA TREE — The Hi-Desert Medical Center, a nonprofit 59-bed acute primary care hospital that is the primary provider of health services in the Morongo Basin, took on another leadership role late last month when it initiated operation of what is the Morongo Basin’s first wastewater treatment plant outside of Twentynine Palms.
At the initiative of the health care district, the medical center entered into a partnership with the Joshua Basin Water District for the construction and operation of the plant. Originally budgeted as a $2.4 million project, the contractor, Twentynine Palms-based Van Dyke Pipeline Contracting, completed the project at roughly $200,000 under budget. The water district, which supervised the project, obtained permits and licensing for the undertaking. The Morongo Basin Health Care District is picking up the entire cost, construction and operational, of what is dubbed the  Joshua Basin Treatment Plant No. 1.
Located on the east side of White Feather Road, it is capable of handling the current 52,000 to 73,000 gallons of effluent currently discharged per day from the hospital and the nearby Continuing Care Center. It will be able to expand to process the 104,000 to 146,000 gallons of wastewater  per day that it is anticipated will flow from the hospital after its scheduled 23,500-square-foot expansion.
Pipes carry the effluent to the facility’s holding tanks, separators, equalization basin, sludge pre-thickener pumps, and then to the bioreactor and accompanying blowers. In the bioreactor, microorganisms feed on the sludge to break down the sewage, at which point it undergoes further processing and filtration.
The plant provides a model, at both the physical/operational and administrative/financial levels, for the town of Yucca Valley. In Yucca Valley, where the population has grown to 20,700, the entire town and its population utilize septic systems. According to the United States Geological Survey, 880 acre-feet of septic discharge currently reaches the groundwater below the town every year. According to the USGS,  nitrates are accumulating beneath Yucca Valley in ever increasing concentrations and at depths that pose a threat to the groundwater. The California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state agency responsible for protecting water quality, adopted a resolution identifying the town of Yucca Valley as one of 66 communities throughout the state with groundwater threatened by the continuing overuse of septic systems. The board further declared Yucca Valley as a top priority for eliminating the use of septic systems, meaning Yucca Valley’s is one of the five most seriously threatened water supplies in the state. After local officials resisted taking immediate action and refused to impose any kind of building or development moratorium that would stabilize the problem, the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Hi-Desert Water District in 2011 forged a memorandum of agreement to allow the city to continue to issue interim permits for new septic systems while imposing state-mandated  septic discharge prohibitions due to be triggered as of May 19, 2016. Under that mandate, phase 1 of a wastewater system must be completed or significantly on its way to completion by that date or the state will initiate enforcement action. The first phase of the project is to cover the downtown area of Yucca Valley, the area most proximate to the heart of the groundwater basin.  Similarly, phase 2 must be completed or nearly completed by May 19, 2019 and phase 3 must be completed by May 19, 2022. The last two phases lie further out where future concentrated development is most likely to occur.
With the May 19, 2016 deadline looming, the Hi-Desert Water District is pushing for the creation of a financing mechanism to pay for the water treatment system, consisting of a municipal sized treatment plant and over 400,000 linear feet of pipe.
Officials believe the system can be built for $125 million. One analysis is that each Yucca Valley  parcel’s share in the debt burden for the creation of the sewer system would be $16,700.
If the $125 million cost of the project could be defrayed over 30 years, households in Yucca Valley would be called upon to pay between $20 and $40 per month for sewer service, according to one calculation.

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